Ind. prosecutor, attorney spar over death penalty

(WISH Photo, file)
(WISH Photo, file)

COLUMBUS, Ind. (AP) — The defense attorney for a man charged with killing four people in a southern Indiana home last year is pressing the local prosecutor to decide if he’ll seek the death penalty in the case.

Attorney David Nowak argued in a motion filed this week in Bartholomew Circuit Court that Prosecutor Bill Nash should decide right away whether he’ll seek the death penalty against Samuel E. Sallee so that Sallee’s trial can start as scheduled in June.

Nowak said he and his co-counsel aren’t certified for death penalty trials so new attorneys would need to be appointed if Nash decides to seek that punishment, The Republic reported.

“(Sallee’s) position is that he is wrongfully held on these charges and his right to a prompt trial must be preserved,” Nowak wrote in his motion.

Sallee faces four counts of murder in the May 2013 deaths of 53-year-old Katheryn Burton; her longtime boyfriend, Thomas Smith, 39; and two friends, Aaron Cross and Shawn Burton, both 41-year-old Columbus residents. The victims were found shot to death in a home in in Waynesville, a small community outside Columbus.

Nowak’s motion asks Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann to rule by Monday, or alternatively for him to pick another date well in advance of Sallee’s scheduled June 24 trial when Nash must decide if he plans to seek the death penalty or life without parole against Sallee.

Nash, who filed his response to Nowak’s motion on Thursday, contends Indiana law and subsequent state Supreme Court rulings give prosecutors broad leeway to carefully weigh whether the death penalty is justified in cases.

Nash also said there’s no need for Heimann to impose an arbitrary deadline on whether prosecutors will seek capital punishment against Sallee.

The prosecutor wrote in his filing that he “offered the court and defendant assurance that the decision won’t be undertaken lightly and will certainly not be used as some form of subterfuge for damaging the defendant’s constitutional and procedural rights.”

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