Jan. 21 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court has overturned the death sentence for a man convicted of killing an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper in 1999.
A jury unanimously sentenced Kenneth Barrett to death in 2005 for the slaying of trooper David "Rocky" Eales while authorities conducted a drug-related search warrant on his home.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals ruled Tuesday that Barrett's trial lawyers failed to present evidence of his mental illness and brain damage during the sentencing phase of his trial. This, they said, violates the Sixth Amendment, which says defendants have the right to an effective counsel.
The court agreed with his current defense team, who argued that Barrett's history of being abused as a child, multiple injuries to his brain, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder should have been considered as mitigating factors in his sentencing.
"We conclude that, viewing the totality of the evidence at trial, sentencing, and the postconviction hearing, there is a reasonable probability at least one juror would have recommended a life sentence," the court ruling said.
The court vacated the death sentenced and ordered that Barrett receive a new sentencing hearing.
An Oklahoma jury initially convicted Barrett of manslaughter and sentenced him to 20 years in prison for Eales' death. Federal prosecutors also took up the case on the grounds that Barrett killed a law enforcement officer during the performance of their duties.
The jury in the federal case sentenced him to death.
Robert Dunham, executive director for the Death Penalty Information Center, told UPI on Thursday that "the circumstances of the federal prosecution clearly demonstrate that it was really an attempt to nullify the decision of a local Oklahoma jury."
At the time of the appellate court ruling, Barrett was one of 50 people of federal death row, none of whom are currently scheduled for execution. President Joe Biden has voiced his opposition to the death penalty, so the likelihood of any federal executions taking place under his Justice Department is low.
The Justice Department has the option of appealing the 10th Circuit's ruling this week, but.
"Whether they do so will be an early indicator of how seriously they intend to follow through on President Biden's campaign statement that he will work to end the federal death penalty, particularly given the federal prosecutors' attempt to manipulate the system because they didn't like the outcome in state court," Dunham said.
There hadn't been any executions at the federal level for 17 years until July, when the Trump administration put to death Daniel Lewis Lee. President Donald Trump ultimately executed 13 people during his time in office, concluding with that of Dustin Higgs on Saturday.
The Trump Justice Department carried out six executions after Biden was elected president. Prior to that, a lame-duck president hadn't executed any federal death row inmates since the 1880s under President Grover Cleveland.