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Court orders hearing for Oklahoma death row inmate

December 26, 2013 GMT

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that an Oklahoma death row inmate deserves a hearing to examine his allegations of jury tampering at his second trial.

Bigler J. “Bud” Stouffer II was convicted twice of first-degree murder and shooting with the intent to kill in a 1985 attack against his girlfriend’s estranged husband, Doug Ivens, and Ivens’ girlfriend, Putnam City teacher Linda Reaves. Ivens was wounded but survived, but Reaves was killed. Each time he was convicted, Stouffer received the same sentence: the death penalty for Reaves’ slaying and life in prison for the attack on Ivens.

An appellate court ruled in 1999 that Stouffer had received inadequate legal representation at his first trial and granted him a new one. He was convicted and received the same sentences again in 2003.

In an appeal, Stouffer alleges that during his second trial, he provided evidence to the court of improper external communication involving a juror and her husband, and that the court improperly refused to allow an evidentiary hearing to determine whether it had affected the trial’s outcome in any way.

A 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel agreed, and on Thursday ordered a new hearing to examine the allegations.

“We conclude that the trial court erred by not conducting an evidentiary hearing, and we remand to the federal district court with instructions to hold the necessary hearing,” the court said in its ruling.

The court said that toward the end of the penalty stage of Stouffer’s second trial, his attorney noticed the juror’s husband in the courtroom, “laughing, joking, handshaking and embracing” with a former roommate of Ivens who was sitting with Ivens’ family.

A sheriff’s deputy responsible for escorting Stouffer during the trial later testified that he saw repeated non-verbal communication between the juror and her husband. The deputy saw the husband repeatedly nod and wink at the juror during closing arguments and testimony during the penalty stage, the appeals court wrote.

At one point during the prosecution’s closing argument, the juror looked to her husband with “a questioned look in her face,” according to Thursday’s ruling. Her husband responded by nodding and rolling his eyes, according to the decision.

But the trial court concluded that the deputy’s testimony and Stouffer’s trial lawyer’s observations were not credible evidence of improper juror communication. Instead, they constituted only “speculation” of improper communication, the appeals court wrote.

The court wrote that a hearing is required “to uncover the facts and circumstances of the contact,” including the extent of the juror’s communication with her husband about the case, whether other jurors were aware of the communication and whether they influenced her decision or other jurors’ decisions about Stouffer’s sentence.

A spokesperson for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who represents the state in Stouffer’s appeal, did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.