Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Dinkheller Case Before Supreme Court -
Dublin (GA) Courier Herald

By Terry Wolf - 07/08/08

The State Supreme Court heard arguments Monday to uphold the conviction and death penalty case of Andrew Brannan who was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of Laurens County Deputy Kyle Dinkheller.

Brannan's case is before the state's highest court on a writ of habeas corpus, which is standard procedure filed by inmates who believe they have been wrongly convicted of a crime.

Laurens County District Attorney Craig Fraser joined Assistant State Attorney General Beth Burton on Monday as the two presented combined arguments before the Supreme Court. Fraser and Burton argued that the January 2000 conviction and sentence should be carried out.

"The jury spoke and we are confident that the court will uphold the jury's verdict and the death penalty," Fraser said just after leaving the state's highest court. "We've fought for 10 years in this case and we will continue to stand by the Dinkheller family to see that justice prevails."

Fraser, then an assistant district attorney, prosecuted the case which was moved to Glynn County due to pretrial publicity in Laurens County. Brannan, now 60, was found guilty in January 2000 after jurors deliberated four hours. After another four hours, the jury recommended Brannan be sentenced to death.

The Video Evidence

Dinkheller's execution was captured on his own patrol cruiser recorder after he pulled Brannan over for speeding. The chilling video is now used nationwide to train police officers about waiting too long to respond aggressively to an armed suspect.

The video documents the moments that followed after Dinkheller pulled Brannan over on Whipple's Crossing Road on Jan. 12, 1998. As Brannan exits his vehicle, he is seen on the video jumping around, flailing his arms and yelling at the deputy to shoot him.

Dinkheller is heard trying to reason with Brannan even as Brannan reached back inside his vehicle to pull out a high-powered military issued rifle. Dinkheller repeatedly ordered Brannan to put the gun down.

Brannan, a former Vietnam veteran and military trained killer, then began a gun battle with the young deputy, resulting in dozens of rounds being discharged at close range between the men. Both Dinkheller and Brannan reloaded several times in under 30 seconds. Brannan hit the deputy at least 10 times with the .30-caliber carbine, systematically disabling him until the final fatal shot.

Dinkheller, 23, was married with one child and another on the way.

In January, the Lauren's County Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney's Office held a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of Dinkheller's murder. The memorial service commemorated Dinkheller's life and public service. A wreath placed at the site of his tragic death on Whipple's Crossing remains in view from I-16.

Brannan's Appeals Process

Brannan was scheduled for execution in May of 2003, but he was granted a stay of execution as he began his way through the appeals process. In criminal convictions, a direct appeal is immediately filed with the State Supreme Court, and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court. In Brannan's case, the State Supreme Court upheld his conviction and death sentence; likewise the U.S. Supreme Court in essence affirmed the conviction by refusing to review the case.

Brannan's next standard appeal was to file the writ of habeas corpus, which sent the case back to the Georgia Supreme Court justices.

In petitioning for a habeas corpus, a defendant must prove that the court that ordered his imprisonment made a legal or factual error. Brannan's writ stated that he had been diagnosed by Veteran's Administration hospitals in Decatur and Augusta as suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and bipolar disorder. It further questioned whether Brannan was properly medicated at the time he killed Dinkheller.

In March, Superior Court Judge Richard C. Sutton of Butts County granted Brannan's petition, saying "this Court finds ineffective assistance of counsel" by Brannan's defense attorney during the trial in January 2000. Brannan was represented during his trial by Richard Taylor and Larry Duttweiler.

In his ruling, Sutton refers to "factual history" stating that Taylor was designated as lead counsel but had never represented a client in a death penalty proceeding.

Sutton stated in his ruling that Brannan's defense attorneys "completely undermined" his defense by not adequately exploring the documented history of Brannan's mental illness. The judge stated that Brannan's attorneys limited his defense strategy to "guilty but mentally ill" which Sutton said left Brannan's bizarre actions on the video unexplained.

Fraser said Monday that a ruling is expected from the Georgia Supreme Court by December 2008. If the court upholds Brannan's conviction, he can file another writ of habeas corpus with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Once all appeals are exhausted, death row inmates have the right to appeal to the State Parole Board to commute the death sentence to a sentence of life in prison.