HELENA - One of two men convicted of kidnapping, robbing and murdering a Helena woman in 1994 will not get a new trial on a claim that his lawyer did a poor job, the Montana Supreme Court has ruled.
The panel unanimously rejected the appeal of Paul Jenkins, who argued his attorney should have objected to allowing jurors to hear about statements Jenkins' wife made to authorities that incriminated him in the crimes.
The high court's decision leaves in place Jenkins' back-to-back life sentences for his role in the abduction and killing of Donna Meagher from a Montana City bar. Freddie Lawrence also was convicted and is serving two life terms.
This is the second time Jenkins has challenged his conviction before the Supreme Court. In October 1997, the justices rejected his appeal on other issues.
Meagher was kidnapped early on Jan. 12, 1994, as she closed her family's Jackson Creek Saloon southeast of Helena. Her body was found later that day on a road west of Helena. She had been beaten to death with a crowbar.
In his latest appeal, Jenkins argued his lawyer's mistake was severe enough to warrant a new trial. He said the attorney should have objected to testimony about his wife's comments to investigators that eventually led authorities to arrest Jenkins and Lawrence.
Mary Jenkins, a witness to the crimes, suffered from an Alzheimer's-related memory loss that affected her ability to remember events on the night Meagher was killed. But the judge concluded she was competent to testify.
Still, most of Mary Jenkins' testimony was that she did not know or could not recall. The judge also allowed the jury to hear what Mary Jenkins said when interviewed by law officers.
Jenkins said his wife's memory problem made it impossible for his lawyer to adequately cross-examine her about her statements, violating his right to confront his accusers.
The fact that his lawyer did not raise that issue during trial is enough to overturn the conviction, he told the court.
The state argued that Mary Jenkins was in court and the defense had ample opportunity to question her in a way that pointed out to jurors her unreliable memory. The Supreme Court agreed.
The justices cited a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision that the constitution guarantees only the opportunity for an effective cross-examination, not that the questioning will be as effective as the defendant wants.
Jenkins had the chance to demonstrate the poor quality of his wife's memory, and the jury had the chance to judge whether her recollections were reliable, Justice Bill Leaphart said for the court.