TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Topeka man convicted of two 2003 murders deserves a new trial in part because his previous attorney provided ineffective representation, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered Friday.
Phillip D. Cheatham was convicted in Shawnee County in 2005 of killing Annette Roberson and Gloria Jones and wounding a third victim, Annetta Thomas, at a Topeka home.
Justice Dan Biles wrote in Friday's opinion that Cheatham was denied a fair trial in part because his attorney at the time, Dennis Hawver of Ozawkie, did not put enough effort into preparing for the case. The justices said the 200 hours Hawver spent working on Cheatham's defense was "appallingly low for a death penalty defense and even more stunning when all but 60 of those hours, as Hawver testified, were spent in trial."
"Specifically, we hold that counsel's performance was deficient in several respects, which were most seriously problematic when he volunteered to the jury that Cheatham had a prior voluntary manslaughter conviction and referred repeatedly to his client as a 'professional drug dealer' and 'shooter of people.' This denied Cheatham his right to a fair trial," Biles wrote.
Messages left for Hawver and Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor seeking comments were not immediately returned. A spokesman for Attorney General Derek Schmidt said the office was reviewing the decision but declined to comment further.
Cheatham, 40, is being housed in maximum security custody at the state prison in Hutchinson. He was convicted on drug charges in 1991 and involuntary manslaughter in 1995. Both cases occurred in Wyandotte County.
During the appeals process, Shawnee County District Court Judge Mark Braun ruled Cheatham's death sentence should be set aside based on comments Hawver made during the sentencing portion of the case, but that the convictions should stand.
The decision to resentence Cheatham was based on Braun's conclusion that Hawver "had no business taking on a death penalty case."
Hawver was representing Cheatham on unrelated drug charges at the time of the shootings. Cheatham was arrested and being held in Chicago in December 2003 when he was charged in Topeka for the shootings. Cheatham originally was assigned a public defender to represent him on the murder charges until Hawver became the attorney of record.
According to testimony, Hawver said he maintained a busy practice, with about 60 percent of his cases civil and 40 percent criminal. Hawver tried three noncapital murder cases before 1985 before taking on the Cheatham case. He had said he never tried or participated in a death penalty case and was not on a list of qualified capital case attorneys maintained by the state Board of Indigent Defense.