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Justices May Hear Case of Inmate Who Alleges Slipshod Legal Work

The Supreme Court will consider on Friday whether to take the case of Joseph Gamboa, an inmate on Texas's death row, who was not able to file a new petition after, he says, his court-appointed lawyer robbed him of the chance to challenge his murder conviction, the New York Times reports. Gamboa was convicted and sentenced to death in 2007 for two murders during a robbery at a bar in San Antonio. He maintains his innocence. His appeals lawyer, John J. Ritenour Jr., visited his client once before filing the habeas petition. Gamboa brought documents that seemed to show that prosecutors had withheld evidence suggesting that another man had committed the killings, a potentially powerful claim. Ritenour did not take the documents. Instead, Gamboa said in a sworn statement, “Mr. Ritenour told me that he had read the state court record in my case and believed I was guilty.”


Nearly a year later, Ritenour filed the petition, which was largely lifted from an earlier one, repeating typographical and grammatical mistakes. It was not signed by Gamboa, though that was a legal requirement, and it did not include any of the arguments Gamboa had asked him to pursue.  After new lawyers agreed to represent Gamboa, they asked for permission to file another petition. Both the trial judge and an appeals court turned down the request. “Troubling though Gamboa’s allegations of attorney abandonment may be,” a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit wrote in an unsigned opinion, Ritenour had wasted his client’s one shot in federal court.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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