PHOENIX -- An Arizona inmate who died in January without having his appeals resolved is the subject of a case before the state Supreme Court.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Welty dismissed the indictment against Richard Glassel after his death from apparent natural causes. That decision doesn't sit well with county prosecutors who have asked the Arizona Supreme Court to nullify it and keep Glassel's criminal record intact.
Glassel's victims from a Peoria homeowners' association meeting where he opened fire in 2000 also are seeking to have the legal precedent that Welty used to reach his decision abolished, the Arizona Capitol Times reported.
The high court heard arguments in the case earlier this month but hasn't made a decision.
Glassel was sentenced to death on two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of board members Duane Lynn and Esther LaPlante, and 351 years on 30 counts of attempted murder. The 75-year-old Glassel was imprisoned in Florence.
The U.S. Supreme Court has said that a defendant's death makes it impossible to enforce a judgment. Justice William Holohan wrote in 1979 that the interests of the state in protecting society have been satisfied.
Welty relied on that case to wipe clear Glassel's conviction and sentence. The legal doctrine, referred to as abatement, is used throughout the country although some states have done away with, limited or modified it.
Attorney Colleen Clase of Arizona Voice for Crime Victims, who represents Lynn and his adult children, says the doctrine is outdated and doesn't support victims' rights.
Maricopa County Deputy Attorney Gerald Grant argued that the doctrine applies only to direct appeals, not post-conviction relief proceedings that aren't part of the constitutionally guaranteed appeal process.
"By applying abatement to the post-conviction relief proceeding, which is where Mr. Glassel died before any of his claims could be resolved, essentially gives him the benefit of having earned something that he didn't," Grant said in court. "It gives him the benefit of having his convictions overturned."
Glassel had alleged that his trial attorney did not effectively raise a guilty-except-insane defense that could have put him in a mental institution instead of being sentenced to death.
Arizona Supreme Court Justice Robert Brutinel asked during the arguments why it all mattered.
"It matters for him and his family because there is a substantial stigma associated with this conviction," defense attorney Charles Babbitt said.
Information from: Arizona Capitol Times, http://www.arizonacapitoltimes.com