MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday that it will not hear the case of an Alabama death row inmate who says his lawyer had an undisclosed conflict of interest that caused evidence of childhood abuse to not be presented in court.
The court said it will not review the case of Nicholas Acklin, 47. He was convicted in the 1996 shooting deaths of four people in Huntsville.
Appellate attorneys wrote that during the 1998 trial, Acklin's trial attorney wanted to show Acklin had suffered childhood physical and emotional abuse from his father. Acklin's father, who denied the accusation, threatened to stop paying legal fees in the case if that was done, his attorneys wrote in the court petition.
"It should go without saying that the right to be represented by conflict-free counsel could not be more important when a defendant faces the death penalty," his attorneys wrote.
In handing down the death sentence, the judge said Acklin was the product of a loving middle-class family while "most killers are typically the products" of poverty or an abusive background.
The Alabama attorney general's office argued there was no conflict because Acklin indicated he didn't want the abuse discussed in court.
"Most critically, the evidence showed 'that the sole reason for trial counsel's failure to introduce evidence of the alleged abuse was that Acklin expressly forbade them from doing so,'" attorneys for Alabama wrote.
Several law professors who specialize in legal ethics had filed a brief urging the high court to hear the case.
The slayings are sometimes referred to as the "cell phone murders" locally because prosecutors say it began in a dispute over a stolen cellphone.
Acklin and another defendant, Joey Wilson, were convicted of capital murder. Prosecutors said they went to the home after one of the victims filed a police report saying Wilson had stolen his cellphone.
Charles Hemphill, 21, Bryan Carter, 21, Michael Beaudette, 19, all of Huntsville, and Johnny Couch, 18, of Hazel Green were killed.