ARIZONA -9th Circuit denies all but 1 claim of Arizona death row inmate convicted in 1980 murder case


march 6, 2014

PHOENIX — A federal appeals court has denied almost all of the claims of an Arizona death row inmate who says he had ineffective counsel at his 1997 resentencing.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Wednesday remanded one claim of 53-year-old Scott D. Clabourne to a Tucson federal court.

That was Clabourne’s assertion that his lawyers at resentencing failed to object to the court’s consideration of his confession to police.

Clabourne was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of a 22-year-old University of Arizona student.

Authorities say the New York woman was raped, strangled and stabbed in the heart on Sept. 18, 1980. Her naked body was dumped in an arroyo, where it was found the following day.

Clabourne was first sentenced to death in 1983.

 

On the evening of September 18, 1980, Laura Webster left work with some friends and went to the Green Dolphin, a Tucson bar frequented by students from the University of Arizona. Sometime around midnight, she left the bar with three strange men. The next morning, Webster’s naked body was found lying in the dry bed of the Santa Cruz River. Wrapped in a bloody sheet, Webster had been strangled with a blue and white bandana, then stabbed to death. She had also been severely beaten, and traces of semen were found in her mouth, rectum and vagina.

The Tucson police got their first break in the case almost a year later when a woman named Shirley Martin reported that her former boyfriend, Scott Clabourne, had made several statements inculpating himself in a homicide. Clabourne was in custody on an unrelated burglary charge at the Pima County Jail, where he was interviewed by Detectives Bustamante and Reuter of the Tucson Police Department.

Clabourne gave a detailed, taped confession to the rape and murder of Laura Webster. According to Clabourne, he and two other men, Larry Langston and a man Clabourne called “Bob” (later identified as Edward Carrico), went to the Green Dolphin to “get some women.” Langston convinced Webster to leave the bar with them by promising to take her to a cocaine party Clabourne was purportedly hosting; instead the three men took Webster to a house Langston had been taking care of for a friend. The three men forced Webster to remove all her clothes and to serve them drinks. They then raped her repeatedly over the course of several hours. Though a much larger man than Langston, Clabourne claims to have been afraid of Langston; he also claims to have been intoxicated. Langston was the instigator, and he “made” the others take part. At the end of the night, Langston instructed Clabourne to kill Webster, and Clabourne obeyed: He strangled Webster with a bandana he carried, and then stabbed her with a knife.

Three days after Detectives Bustamante and Reuter interviewed Clabourne, a criminal information was filed charging Clabourne with first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault. Lamar Couser was appointed as Clabourne’s counsel. Couser brought a pretrial motion to suppress the confession, which was denied. He also moved for a hearing to determine Clabourne’s competency to stand trial, but the state called two psychiatrists to testify that Clabourne was not so mentally impaired that he would be unable to assist in his own defense. The court found Clabourne competent.

Clabourne was tried alone. 1 The prosecution relied primarily on Clabourne’s taped confession, but also introduced evidence of other incriminating statements Clabourne made after the murder. Shirley Martin testified that Clabourne had admitted committing the crime on several occasions (although his accounts were not consistent). Barbara Bailon, who worked at the Salvation Army halfway house, testified that Clabourne had confessed to killing a girl. Scott Simmons, a Pima County Jail Corrections officer, testified that Clabourne had told him about the crime before giving his taped confession. And a second corrections officer, Dale Stevenson, testified that he overheard Clabourne tell another inmate, “Yeah, I raped her. She didn’t want it but I know she liked it.”

The state also introduced testimony to corroborate Clabourne’s confession. Shirley Martin testified that the blue and white bandana found tied around Webster’s neck was similar to one that belonged to Clabourne. The owner of the house where the rape and murder occurred identified the sheet in which Laura Webster’s body had been found and testified that the mattress on one of her beds had been turned over to conceal large stains. And Webster’s friend Rick Diaz identified Clabourne as one of the men who had left the Green Dolphin with Webster.

Couser raised an insanity defense. However, he called only one witness: Dr. Sanford Berlin, a psychiatrist who had treated Clabourne several years previously at the University of Arizona Medical Center. 2 Couser did not contact Dr. Berlin until the week of trial. Perhaps for that reason, Dr. Berlin was not prepared to testify as to Clabourne’s mental state at the time of the murder; he could only surmise that Clabourne might be suffering from a mild form of schizophrenia. The state put two psychiatrists on the stand to testify that Clabourne understood the nature of his actions and the difference between right and wrong, and that he was legally sane at the time of the murders. Couser cross-examined the state’s experts, but put on no other witnesses.

Clabourne was convicted on all counts,3 and a sentencing hearing was held before Judge Richard N. Roylston, who had also presided at trial. Judge Roylston found that the offense was committed in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner, an aggravating circumstance under Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. S 13-703(F)(6). 4 Couser argued that Clabourne should not be sentenced to death because he was mentally impaired at the time of the offense, but he put on no evidence at the sentencing hearing, relying on the evidence presented at the guilt phase of the trial. Judge Roylston concluded that Clabourne’s “capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law was impaired but was not significantly impaired.” Judge Roylston did not consider this evidence sufficiently compelling to be a mitigating circumstance under Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. S 13-703(G)(1),5 and in any event found that whatever mitigating effect Clabourne’s impairment might have had was outweighed by the cruel and depraved manner in which he had committed the offense. 6 Judge Roylston sentenced Clabourne to death.

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