The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

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April 1, 2013

US court upholds death penalty for Oklahoma man

OKLAHOMA CITY — A federal appeals court on Monday upheld the first-degree murder conviction and death sentence of a Ponca City man for the June 1999 death of a 19-year-old woman.

The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Clayton Darrell Lockett’s claim that victim impact testimony that included sentencing recommendations violated Lockett’s constitutional rights.

Lockett’s attorney, Assistant Federal Defender Dean Sanderford of Denver, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

A jury in Noble County convicted Lockett, 38, in the shooting death of Stephanie Nieman of Perry. Along with first-degree murder, Lockett was also convicted on 18 other counts, including first-degree rape, kidnapping and robbery. Jurors recommended a death sentence.

Investigators said Nieman and another 19-year-old woman had their hands bound with duct tape after Lockett and two other men forced their way into a home in Perry. The two women along with a man and his 9-month-old son were taken to Kay County, where Neiman was shot. Police said the others were driven back to Perry and released. Neiman’s body was found in a shallow grave along a dirt road near Tonkawa.

Among other things, Lockett argued that victim impact testimony during the sentencing phase of his trial violated his constitutional rights. The appeals court said “some portions of the victim impact statement were unconstitutional” but did not have a substantial effect on the jury’s sentencing decision.

The court said statements by the victim’s family members included “an unambiguous plea to the jury to sentence Mr. Lockett to death.”

The appeals court said it has ruled in previous cases that overwhelming evidence of guilt and testimony about the brutality of the crime “clearly outweighed any potential impact of unconstitutional victim impact testimony.”

“We cannot conclude that the erroneously admitted victim impact testimony in this case was prejudicial,” the court said.

 

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