WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court Monday declined to hear arguments in the case of Nick Acklin, one of the men convicted in the 1996 cellphone torture-murders off University Drive.
Acklin, who is facing the death penalty, contends his lawyer had a conflict of interest.
Acklin and Joey Wilson both received death sentences for the 1996 murders of four people and the wounding of two more in a case still remembered for its brutality. A third man charged in the case, Corey Johnson, served 15 years in prison on a felony murder charge before being released in 2011.
Among those killed, AL.com reported, were Bryan Carter, 21; Michael Beaudette, 19; Johnny Couch, 18; and Lamar Hemphill, 21. Michelle Hayden, then 17, was shot in her face, elbow and abdomen. Ashley Rutherford, then 22, was shot in the back of the head and survived by pretending he was dead.
Johnson is facing an unrelated capital murder charge for the November 2016 stabbing death of his girlfriend, Candy Wilson, the sister of Joey Wilson.
Acklin’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court was co-authored by Donald Verrilli, a former Solicitor General of the United States.
It said the case presented the following question to the court:
“Whether a criminal defendant is deprived of his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to conflict-free counsel when his lawyer is paid by a third party;
the third party threatens to withhold payment unless the lawyer conducts the defense in a manner that serves the third party’s interests; the lawyer does not inform his client or the court of the conflict; and the lawyer in fact conducts the defense in a manner that serves the third party payer’s interests and sacrifices the client’s interests.”
The argument focused on the fact that Acklin’s father had a long history of violent abuse of Acklin, his mother and his brothers. Shortly before trial, his attorney, Behrouz Rahmati learned about it and wanted to raise the issue during the sentencing phase.
But, according to the court filing, Acklin’s father, who had paid about $3,000 toward Acklin’s defense, strongly objected – telling Rahmati “You tell Nick if he wants to go down this road, I’m done with him” and “done with helping with this.”
Rahmati later told Nick Acklin he wanted to raise the issue, but Acklin told him no. The court filing says Rahmati got Acklin to sign a waiver confirming that he told Rahmati not to use the abuse evidence during Acklin’s trial and sentencing.
The abuse issue wasn’t raised during Acklin’s trial; instead, there was testimony Acklin came from a loving home.
The Supreme Court filing argued that Acklin’s lawyer didn’t do enough to raise the issue, and the father’s payments created a conflict of interest which denied Acklin effective counsel and a fair trial.
Acklin’s attorneys contend if the details of the abuse he and his family suffered were raised, the jury’s recommendation of a death sentence, by a 10-2 vote, might not have happened.
In opposing the petition the state of Alabama argued Acklin told his lawyer not to raise the issue, so it was his clear choice not to present the abuse evidence.
Acklin and Wilson remain on death row.