The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the death sentence given to convicted murderer Clayton Darrell Lockett, of Ponca City, Oklahoma. Lockett was convicted in August 2000 of the first degree murder of 19-year-old Stephanie Nieman. Lockett was also sentenced to more than 2,285 years in prison for associated non-capital crimes occurring that night, including assault with a dangerous weapon, burglary, first degree rape, and kidnapping.
Details of the Case
A jury found that on June 3, 1999, Clayton Lockett and two co-conspirators, Shawn Mathis and Alfonso Lockett, broke into the Perry, Oklahoma, home of Bobby Bornt. They assaulted Bornt before burglarizing his home for drugs. While they were at Bornt's home, two 19-year-old women arrived. The men repeatedly raped and assaulted one woman, whose name is withheld as a victim of sexual assault, before loading Bornt, Bornt's 9-month-old son, Stephanie Nieman, and the other woman into Bornt's and Nieman's trucks and driving them to a rural location in Kay County.
Bornt testified that he heard Clayton Locket say, "Someone has got to go," before he put Nieman in a ditch dug by Shawn Mathis and shot her twice. He also testified to hearing the men laugh about "how tough [Nieman] was" when she did not die after the first shot.
Bornt and the other victim believe they were spared because they have children; however, both testified to hearing Lockett plan to kill them and take Bornt's infant son to either a shelter or Bornt's parents' house.
Convictions in the Case
Clayton Lockett was found to be the instigator of all crimes that evening. According to court documents, State's evidence included a videotaped confession by Locket in which he "confessed to going to Mr. Bornt's home to rob him; to personally hitting and beating Mr. Bornt, [name withheld], and Ms. Neiman with his fists or with the shotgun; to binding the victims with duct tape; to planning to kill all three adult victims; to forcing them (along with the baby) to leave Mr. Bornt's house and go to the country, where the adults were to be killed; to taking Ms. Neiman's and Mr. Bornt's trucks; to being the ultimate decision maker as to which victims would be killed; to instructing Mr. Mathis on how to dig the grave; to personally shooting Ms. Neiman while she cried; to threatening to kill them if they told anyone of his crimes; and to insisting that his accomplices bury Ms. Neiman when he knew she was still alive." He was convicted of 19 felony counts:
- Conspiracy (Count 1)
- First Degree Burglary (Count 2)
- Assault with a Dangerous Weapon (Counts 3, 4 and 5)
- Forcible Oral Sodomy (counts 6, 15, and 16)
- First Degree Rape (Counts 7, 8, 9, and 14)
- Kidnapping (Counts 10, 11, 12, and 13)
- Robbery by Force and Fear (Counts 17 and 18)
- Murder in the First Degree (Count 19)
Despite the evidence against him and the videotaped confession, Lockett appealed his conviction and sentence on 15 grounds, including a victims' impact statement in which Nieman's family pleaded for his death, submission of testimony regarding Lockett's abusive upbringing, and a defense attorney who acknowledged his client's guilt without Lockett's consent. Court documents reveal, "Mr. Lockett's trial counsel did not present a defense. In his opening statement, counsel told the jury that Mr. Lockett had no defense. He referred to the prosecutor's statement that the jury would have 'no doubt, not just beyond a reasonable doubt, but no doubt' of Mr. Lockett's guilt and conceded that the prosecutor was right."
Oklahoma Appeals Strategies
The appeals court acknowledged that errors did occur in Clayton Lockett's trial, but ruled these errors to be "harmless errors" which did not affect the outcome of his case. They ruled that the preponderance of evidence, not legal errors, led to Clayton Lockett's conviction and death penalty.
To read the full opinion of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, click here. To find a criminal appeals lawyer in Oklahoma, visit the website of attorney Adam R. Banner at https://www.oklahomalegalgroup.com/practice-areas/appeals.