U.S. Seventh Circuit - The FindLaw 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Court: Lawyer's Strategy Didn't Matter in Murderer's Sentence

Fighting a life sentence for murder, Frederick Laux wanted his lawyer to throw in everything for his defense.

He claims that his broken marriage, his post-divorce depression, and his childhood problems all contributed to his crime. His father was an alcoholic and his mother a paranoid schizophrenic, he said.

His lawyer chose not to talk about his childhood, but that didn't matter to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Laux v. Zatecky. The appellate court affirmed that the defendant's trial counsel did not act unreasonably, and that the sentence was proper given that the defendant broke into his ex-wife's home, and beat her with a crowbar, killing her.

No Defense

After seeing his ex-wife at a party with another partner, Laux broke into her house.

He struck her three times with a crowbar and finished her off by strangling her. He was convicted and sentenced to life without parole --plus 20 years for the burglary.

Laux appealed on the ground that his lawyer was ineffective. He also complained that his sentence included a no-contact order, but lost.

He then filed for habeas relief, arguing his lawyer erred by choosing to focus on his divorce-related depression as mitigation. Instead, Laux said, his lawyer should have used his childhood problems.

No Difference

It wouldn't have made a difference, the Seventh Circuit said. The appeals panel observed that Laux's childhood was not a "significant hardship."

"Since he was never 'a victim of abuse or neglect,' 'was never in trouble,' and 'excelled in both high school and college,' the stories of his difficult childhood were little more than 'family anecdotes' in the judgment of the state court,'" Judge David Hamilton wrote for the court.

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