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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Court upholds death row inmate's sentence

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Third Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Harold Erwin has turned down a request for a new trial by death row inmate Steven Victor Wertz.

Wertz received a hearing April 9-10 regarding his claim he received ineffective council during his death penalty trial in 2007 for the 1986 shotgun slayings of an Ash Flat couple.

During the hearing, Wertz's new attorneys, Public Defenders W.H. Taylor and Jeff Mitchell, called witnesses who testified that Wertz had not received adequate representation by his former attorney, Greg Bryant, during the penalty phase of his trial. The testimony attempted to prove that proper representation could have prevented a death penalty sentence.

Special Prosecutor Jack McQuary represented the state during the hearing. McQuary said, during his initial trial, Wertz was not cooperative with his attorney, and did cooperate during the mitigation portion of his trial, because he wanted to be put to death. McQuary claimed that Wertz's lack of cooperation with his attorney during the sentencing phase prevented his attorney from obtaining some of the information his new attorneys have been able to gain.

After taking arguments from both sides into consideration, Erwin's decision praised both attorneys McQuary and W.H. Taylor, "Thank you for a well tried case. It was tried with professionalism and much competence. The court rules for the state and adopts the findings of fact and conclusions of law. Mr. McQuary is to prepare the precedent." The decision was filed with the Sharp County Clerk's office, ending, for now, Wertz's quest for a new trial.

Wertz was sentenced to death by lethal injection -- Sharp County's first death row sentence -- in 2007 for the murders of Terry and Kathy Watts. The nine day trial ended after a jury of seven men and five women convicted Wertz, now 62, of two counts of capital murder, after only 40 minutes of deliberation. In less than an hour, the jury decided on the death penalty.

The victims, Terry and Kathy Watts, were found murdered in their home in the early morning hours of Dec. 31, 1986, by Kathy's mother, Judy Bone, who came by to take her son-in-law to work. Terry, 25, was found in the front room of the home, while Kathy, 22, was found in the master bedroom. The couple's 11-month-old son, Joshua, was found safely sleeping between his father's legs.

At a first hearing on Wertz's motion for a new trial in Oct. 2008, Circuit Judge Harold Erwin also rejected Wertz's argument that he had received ineffective counsel. Again, in August of 2011, Wertz appealed to Judge Erwin for a new trial and the motion was again denied.

Inmates on death row are entitled to Rule 37 hearings which, in some cases, allow them to have new trials if it is determined their council was ineffective during the initial trial.

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