Appeals Court upholds dismissal of post conviction claims in two cases

Published 3:33 pm Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The state Court of Appeals has rejected the post-conviction claims of Travis Shanks, who was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to murder in the 2002 shooting death of David Smalls.

Inmates use post-conviction petitions to allege that they have found some new evidence that might win them a new trial. A Claiborne County judge dismissed Shanks’ petition in 2006.

According to the court record, Shanks shot Smalls outside a liquor store in 2002 in Claiborne County. Smalls was shot five times in the head.

Shanks, who had originally been charged with capital murder, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of murder on March 24, 2003, and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

In his post-conviction petition, Shanks said he didn’t understand that in pleading guilty to murder, he was confessing that he intended, or deliberately, set out to kill Smalls.

Appeals Judge David Anthony Chandler, writing Tuesday for the court, said Shanks admitted in his petition that he shot Smalls in the head repeatedly, into what he knew to be a vital part of the Smalls’ body and might be considered to be deliberate.

Chandler, while noting that Shanks failed to file his petition within the three years after conviction provided in law, said Shanks was thoroughly questioned by the trial judge and told about the elements that prosecutors would have to prove to get a murder conviction.

In another case, the Appeals Court rejected claims from Terence Truitt that his guilty plea to manslaughter wasn’t voluntary and his attorney could have done a better job.

Truitt entered the plea in Warren County Circuit Court in the death of Darrell Kemper. A judge denied his post-conviction petition in 2006.

According to the court record, Truitt agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter and prosecutors dismissed a murder charge. Truitt was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In his post-conviction claim, Truitt said his plea was entered involuntarily because his attorney assured him that he would not be sentenced to more than ten years in prison.

Appeals Judge Tyree Irving, writing for the court, said Truitt’s agreement to plead guilty to manslaughter included a statement that he was fully advised by his attorney of the possible sentence and that wasn’t coerced into pleading guilty.

Irving said that statement supported dismissal of Truitt’s petition.

Irving said Truitt failed to show the court the outcome of his case would have been different had his attorney done something different.