PHOENIX – Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has granted convicted killer Daniel Wayne Cook a stay of execution, what are the next steps in the process?
Robin Konrad, the lawyer representing Cook, stopped by 3TV to talk it through with Tara Hitchcock.
Cook’s execution, which was scheduled for Tuesday morning, is on hold while the high court considers the argument that Cook had ineffective counsel during the many proceedings that took place after he was convicted of raping, torturing and strangling Kevin Swaney, 16, and Carlos Cruz-Ramos, 26, in 1987 in Lake Havasu City.
Konrad said Cook’s defense at the time never presented the court with information about Cook’s past or the fact the he was physically and sexually abused by his parents, grandparents and other adults in his life since the day he was born.
“Twenty years is a long time, but it should have been done right the first time around and it wasn’t,” Konrad said.
According to his lawyers, the ongoing abuse Cook suffered triggered post-traumatic stress disorder and brain damage, conditions that were only recently diagnosed. Their argument is that Cook should be given life in prison instead of the death penalty.
"It's our contention that if that information [about the abuse he suffered] had been presented in his case, the death sentence would not have been imposed," said assistant federal public defender Dale Baich.
Cook actually fired the attorney who was representing him, a lawyer Konrad called “incompetent,” saying he “came to court with the smell of alcohol on his breath.”
Cook, now 49, then tried to represent himself.
“At the time, Mr. Cook thought he had only the choice of having this attorney or representing himself,” Konrad explained. “He didn’t know he could ask for another attorney.”
Konrad went on to say that Cook requested expert assistance during the sentencing phase of his trial, but a judge denied him.
Whether a criminal’s own past should be a consideration when deciding his fate has been a source of controversy for years.
“I think that as a society, we should punish not just the crime itself, but look at the man who committed the crime,” Konrad said. “That was never done in this case.”
Konrad said Cook functions well in an extremely structured environment like prison.
“He has done the best that he has in his life while he’s been in prison because he has that structured environment,” she said. Despite the horrendous crimes he committed, Konrad describes Cook as “very personable” and “likable.”
“He is survivor,” she said. “He committed a very horrible act on one day of his life. But from the time, before he was even born, he was being abused. … He grew up in an environment where every individual in his life who was supposed to take care of him abused him – sexually, physically and emotionally.”
While the state clemency board opted not to intervene in Cook’s case, the Supreme Court decided there was enough to Konrad’s argument to hold off on the execution.
Swaney’s bother was outraged at the court’s decision.
“Let's just drag it out a little further,” Jim Swaney said. “Let’s spend more of the state’s money, which we don’t have, because he was abused as a kid.”
Konrad said all anybody can do now is wait and see how the U.S. Supreme Court will handle the case.
Last week, the Supreme Court declined to issue a stay of execution for Eric King. The main argument in that case revolved around the drugs Arizona uses in its lethal injection.
Arizona will soon switch from a three drug cocktail – the source of one of those drugs has been the target of much scrutiny and legal wrangling – to a single-drug injection.
While Cook’s team did address thate issue of the drugs with a motion to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, they focused most of their attention and work on Cook’s post-conviction representation and errors that might have been made.
“That is why they granted the stay of execution,” Konrad said.
If the Supreme Court opts not to hear the case, Arizona will be free to ask for a new death warrant for Cook. Should they decide to hear the case, their options are to refer Cook’s case back to a state court for a new trial or a news sentencing trial or they could let the conviction and death sentence stand, thus allowing the execution to move forward.
While no timetable has been set, Cook’s attorneys said there probably will not be any definitive action before the fall.