LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A man convicted of murder as a teenager won a new trial after the Kentucky Court of Appeals concluded Friday that his attorney was ineffective in handling the case.
The appeals court ordered the Madison Circuit Court to retry 27-year-old Christopher McGorman Jr. in the Jan. 29, 2000, shooting death of a classmate, 14-year-old Larry Raney of Winchester.
McGorman was 14 at the time of the shooting but was tried as an adult. He's serving life in prison at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville.
Writing for the court, Judge Denise Clayton found that the defense attorney allowed McGorman to be interviewed by police without independently investigating the incident or having his client evaluated. Clayton concluded those mistakes permeated the entire trial, rendering it unfair. Chief Judge Glenn Acree and Judge Michelle Keller concurred in the opinion.
"In this case, it does not seem 'reasonable' trial strategy to allow a juvenile to be interviewed by the police and confess when defense counsel has not had the juvenile evaluated by a mental health professional nor spoken to a prosecutor about the effect of the statement," Clayton wrote.
McGorman's defense at trial was that he was legally insane and was not responsible for his actions at the time he shot and killed Raney. During the trial, the jurors watched a 45-minute videotaped police interview in which McGorman described how he'd shot Raney in the back of the head, dragged his lifeless body out of a barn and left it in a cornfield.
The shooting took place behind his home in Clark County. The body of Raney, a soccer player and member of Future Farmers of America, was found in the cornfield after McGorman called a classmate and asked for help burying it.
Two mental health professionals testified that McGorman was suffering from mental illness at the time of the murder and during the police interrogation.
On appeal, McGorman claimed he was coerced into giving a confession and that the statement should have never been allowed into the trial. McGorman's trial attorneys said allowing the interview was part of a trial strategy after McGorman was transferred from Juvenile Court to Circuit Court.
Clayton found that because the defense attorney didn't speak to a prosecutor before the police investigation or take any other steps to aide his client before the interview, McGorman did not have effective assistance of counsel as guaranteed by the Constitution. Those failures impacted the entire trial, rendering the proceedings unfair, Clayton wrote.
"His counsel's failure to conduct an investigation, have him evaluated, and talk to a prosecutor prior to his surrender to the police for an interrogation clearly affected his ability to receive a fair trial," Clayton wrote.
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