Crime & Courts

Death Row inmate's sentence overturned

AIKEN -- The South Carolina Supreme Court has again ruled that former Aikenite Donney S. Council will return to court after his death sentence was struck down.

Council, who has been on death row for a decade, had his sentence vacated in September after a Post Conviction Relief judge ruled that his trial counsel made a significant error during the sentencing phase of Council's trial.

Council's convictions for murder, kidnapping, administering poison, grand larceny auto, first-degree burglary, two counts of criminal sexual conduct and grand larceny still stand and are not challenged.

Since his 1996 trial, caseworkers have discovered a slew of mental and psychological issues that may have impacted Council's life, all of which should have been presented as mitigating evidence at the sentencing trial, according to the court's decision.

"Not only did counsel delay in investigating respondent's background, he failed to conduct an adequate investigation," wrote Justice Beatty for the court. "Significantly, he failed to provide his only expert witness, Dr. (Everett) Kuglar, with sufficient records and only directed him to evaluate respondent's competency to stand trial and criminal responsibility."

The court agreed that not enough investigating went into whether Council was mentally ill at the time he committed the offenses.

As part of its decision, the case has been remanded back to the Post Conviction Relief judge to rule on the trial counsel's competency on a second matter; previously that judge ordered an indefinite continuance until Council regains the ability to aid in his post conviction appeals.

Since a defendant's competency is not a requirement, the judge must rule simply on the facts presented.

After the judge rules, it will become clear when a new sentencing hearing will be set.

-- Aiken Standard, McClatchy-Tribune Regional News