Judge refuses request from Indiana inmate serving 95-year sentence to be executed instead



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INDIANAPOLIS — A northern Indiana judge has turned down the request of a murder convict who asked to be executed even though he wasn't sentenced to death.

LaPorte Circuit Judge Thomas Alevizos ruled Monday that Walter Leach has not exhausted his alternatives in seeking an execution from the Indiana Department of Correction and that the court has no legal power to grant the request. Due to that, Alevizos said, there was no way for the case to proceed.

"Even if an exhaustion had been shown, there is no common law or statutory authority for a court to grant the requested remedy," Alevizos wrote in his brief order.

Leach, who doesn't have an attorney and is representing himself, was denied even a court hearing on his request. He is an inmate at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, where executions are carried out in the state.

Leach claimed to have sent copies of his request to the Department of Correction, the Governor's Office and the Indiana Attorney General's office, but none of the agencies said they could find any such formal request.

Leach, 63, didn't say why he was requesting a lethal injection in the petition he filed Aug. 20 in LaPorte Circuit Court. Leach is serving a 95-year sentence for a 1995 fatal shooting outside an Elkhart County bar. His earliest possible release date is in 2045, when he would be 93 years old, according to the Department of Correction website.

The department said Leach could not be made available for an interview Wednesday.

Witnesses testified during Leach's trial that they saw him staring angrily at Howard VanZant and threatening him inside Duke's Bar in Nappanee on July 4, 1995, the Elkhart Truth reported. VanZant was shot in the head as he exited the bar, and witnesses described seeing Leach in a "pistol stance" pointing at VanZant.

Leach was sentenced to the maximum of 65 years for the murder, with an added 30 years for being a habitual offender.

Clark County Prosecutor Steve Stewart, an expert on the history of capital punishment in Indiana, said Wednesday that Leach's request was unusual but not unprecedented.

Robert Smith was serving a 38-year sentence for battery at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in 1995 when he fatally stabbed a fellow inmate who had been convicted of killing a toddler, Stewart said. Smith pleaded guilty to murder on the condition that he would be given the death penalty. He was sentenced to death and was executed in 1998.

Stewart said that many people who are arrested for murder ask for the death penalty but later change their minds.

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