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Judge denies murderer’s death sentence appeal

Corcoran

A U.S. District Court judge won’t grant convicted murderer Joseph Corcoran’s request for relief in his 1999 death sentence.

In the 32-page order, handed down last week, U.S. District Judge Jon DeGuilio found that Corcoran failed to show that Indiana’s decisions to uphold the death penalty in his case were contrary to decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Corcoran’s attorneys have said they planned to review the ruling but are already planning to appeal. The case has been pending in federal court since 2005.

“We think there are some issues still pending,” said Alan Freedman with the Midwest Center for Justice in Evanston, Ill. “We’ll see where we’re going to go from there.”

If they do so, it would mark Corcoran’s fourth time before the judges of the 7th Circuit of Appeals.

Corcoran’s case has been reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court twice, the U.S. District Court twice and before the Indiana Supreme Court five times.

DeGuilio’s ruling came more than seven months after a hearing on the remaining claims in Corcoran’s case – that there were errors in how Allen Superior Judge Fran Gull sentenced Corcoran and that Indiana’s death penalty statute is unconstitutional, according to court documents.

Corcoran shot and killed his brother, James Corcoran, 30; his sister’s fiancé, Robert Scott Turner, 32; and two of his brother’s friends, Timothy G. Bricker, 30, and Douglas A. Stillwell, 30, at a Bayer Avenue home in July 1997.

Since his incarceration, Corcoran has bragged about fatally shooting his parents with a shotgun in Steuben County in 1992, a crime for which he was charged and acquitted.

The state of Indiana can request the death penalty if a defendant is found to have committed murder with at least one “aggravating circumstance,” such as the age of the victim, multiple victims, while committing another crime or killing a law enforcement officer.

In Corcoran’s case, Gull found that one of the aggravating circumstances existed, specifically the multiple victims.

But when she sentenced Corcoran to death, she noted a number of factors against him – the innocence of the victims, the heinousness of the crime and the likelihood Corcoran would kill again. She also noted some factors to be considered in his favor, but gave them less weight than what she considered against him.

In 2000, Gull rewrote her sentencing order, carefully explaining what she considered and what she did not. The order reaffirmed the death penalty, and it has been held up by the Indiana Supreme Court.

DeGuilio ruled the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Gull’s order was not unreasonable, nor did Corcoran show the trial court violated his federally secured rights, according to court documents.

The back-and-forth nature of the case has continued since Corcoran was convicted and sentenced in 1999.

If Corcoran appeals the latest ruling to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, which represents the state on appeals, will file a response at the appropriate time, officials said.

rgreen@jg.net

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