- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 7, 2015

DOVER, Del. (AP) - Attorneys for a Delaware death-row inmate convicted of fatally shooting a man and a 5-year-old boy at a barbershop asked the state Supreme Court on Wednesday to overturn his conviction, arguing that prosecutors withheld information and that his trial lawyer gave ineffective assistance.

Chauncy Starling, 40 was sentenced to death in 2004 for the 2001 killings of 5-year-old Damon Gist Jr. and Darnell Evans, 28, at the Made 4 Men barbershop in downtown Wilmington.

According to court records, Starling and two other men, Alfred Gaines and Richard Frink, were searching for Evans on the day of the shooting. After spotting him, police say in the records, Starling, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a covering over his face, entered the barbershop shot Evans several times, twice as he stood over him. As Evans tried to run, a bullet struck the child in the head.

Defense attorneys argued Wednesday that prosecutors failed to disclose to Starling’s trial lawyer that they had dropped a probation violation charge against Gaines, who was a key witness for the state, suggesting that prosecutors did him a favor in return for his testimony. The probation violation charge stemmed from an incident in which Gaines was found with drugs after being shot by Starling less than a month after the barbershop killings.

“He engineered a way out of his probation violation,” said defense attorney David Fragale.

Deputy attorney general Maria Knoll said there is no evidence that Gaines knew he was receiving any benefit in exchange for his testimony.

Defense attorneys also argued that Starling’s lawyer erred in failing to object to the admission of a statement given to police by Starling’s brother, Michael Starling, who also was a major witness for the state.

Defense attorneys said the statement was coerced during a two-hour interrogation in which police threatened to charge Michael Starling with a crime if he didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear, including corroborating Gaines’ assertion that Chauncy Starling was “sorry” that the boy died.

“They told him what to say over a dozen times,” said Chauncy Starling’s attorney Jeremy Engle.

While Chauncy Starling’s lawyer did not object to the admissibility of his brother’s statement to police, he had the entire recording played for jurors in an effort to show that it was made involuntarily, a seemingly inconsistent defense strategy that left Justice Randy Holland puzzled.

“Why not make the first argument?” he asked.

The justices also grilled attorneys about the legal distinction between a statement given to police voluntarily and one that is made involuntarily under duress.

“Why is it OK … to threaten someone with criminal prosecution without any good-faith basis?” Chief Justice Leo Strine Jr. asked deputy attorney general Maria Knoll.

Knoll said courts must look at the “totality of circumstances” in determining whether an out-of-court statement is admissible.

“A review of the totality of circumstances of Michael’s statements reveals that under prevailing authority, his will was not overborne so as to render his statement involuntary,” prosecutors wrote in their appellate brief. “Michael was an adult. He was not handcuffed nor was he denied food or drink or kept in a locked room.”

The justices are expected to issue their ruling within 90 days.

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