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High Court Majority Sets High Standards For Habeas Appeals

A Black man convicted of murdering a woman he says came at him with a box-cutter lost his chance at a retrial Thursday, as the Supreme Court laid out high standards for state criminal defendants seeking federal habeas corpus review. The 6-3 ruiling fell along ideological lines, with Justice Neil Gorsuch writing the majority opinion and Justice Elena Kagan and the other liberal justices dissenting, Courthouse News Service reports. It comes 15 years after Ervine Davenport, who is 6-foot-5 and weighs 300 lbs., strangled Annette White while the two were driving after consuming alcohol and crack cocaine. White stood 5-foot-2 and weighed 100 lbs., but Davenport says he feared for his life when she grabbed the steering wheel as he was driving and sliced his arm with a box-cutter. He pinned his hand under her chin, pressing her up against the passenger-side window, until she stopped struggling. When he realized she was dead, he panicked and left her body in a field.


A Michigan jury rejected Davenport’s self-defense claim and found him guilty of first-degree premeditated murder. An appeals court ruled that Davenport should not have been shackled at trial, but it affirmed his conviction, saying the shackles did not affect the jurors’ opinions. Davenport went to federal court, where a judge said the state courts had not met the stringent requirements of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act but recommended nevertheless that the court deny habeas relief. The Supreme Court majority agreed.

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