A California man on death row nearly 26 years for kidnapping and murdering 8-year-old Vicki Lynne Hoskinson will be back in court today.
Frank Jarvis Atwood's attorneys will try to persuade a U.S. district judge to reconsider a 2005 decision that prevented them from arguing Atwood's original defense attorney was inadequate during his sentencing hearing.
Atwood's attorneys believe a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision could open the door to a new sentencing hearing where they could present previously unheard mitigating evidence they think could save Atwood's life.
Assistant Arizona Attorney General Lacey Stover Gard intends to argue the 2012 decision does not apply to the Atwood case, and the judge who sentenced Atwood knew most of the mitigating evidence when he placed him on death row.
Vicki disappeared from her Flowing Wells neighborhood on Sept. 17, 1984, while on her way to a mailbox to send a birthday card. Her 11-year-old sister found her pink bike a few blocks from her home and school.
Sheriff's deputies learned several witnesses had seen a man acting oddly in a dark-colored Datsun 280Z near Vicki's school. Other witnesses who observed the car a short time later said they saw a small child inside.
When deputies traced the plates, they learned it was registered to Atwood, who was on parole in California for forcing an 8-year-old boy off a bicycle, pulling him onto his motorcycle and forcing him to perform a sex act.
Atwood was later arrested in Texas. Authorities said they found paint from Vicki's bike on his bumper and damage caused by one of Vicki's pedals.
In addition, friends of Atwood's told authorities they saw him with bloody hands and cactus needles on his clothes that afternoon. Atwood told them he'd stabbed a man in a drug dispute at the west end of Ina Road.
Vicki's skeletal remains were found at the west end of Ina Road on April 12, 1985, seven months after she disappeared.
Atwood was convicted and sentenced to die in May 1987.
According to court documents, Atwood's attorneys, Larry Hammond, Paula Harms and Golnoosh Farzaneh, believe Atwood's trial attorney, Stanton Bloom, failed to conduct an adequate investigation into Atwood's background after his conviction. Jurors did not hear evidence from mental-health experts, nor did they hear from a mitigation specialist.
If they had, the attorneys said, jurors would have learned Atwood began seeing a therapist at 11, his mother physically abused him and his family has a history of psychological issues.
They said jurors would also have heard Atwood was sexually assaulted on four occasions between the ages of 14 and 19.
All of the attacks, plus the abuse at the hands of his mother, led to substance-abuse issues and periods of psychosis, the defense attorneys contend.
The attorneys would like permission to put a forensic psychiatrist on the stand who would testify about how Atwood's experiences led to him developing post-traumatic stress syndrome.
"In a case that aroused such passion and prejudice in the community, a strong mitigating case was Atwood's only hope for a life sentence," the attorneys wrote in a recent motion.
In response, Gard contends the Supreme Court decision doesn't apply to the Atwood case and defense attorneys should not be given the opportunity to present the mitigating evidence.
Bloom made a strategic decision not to present certain mitigating evidence, she argues.
Had Bloom presented mental-health evidence, jurors would have learned about a letter Atwood wrote in which he said sex between adults and children should be legal, suggesting "he was not at all traumatized by the molestation," Gard wrote.
If evidence of PTSD had been introduced during Atwood's trial, the original prosecutor, John Davis, would have put on witnesses saying Atwood bragged about his actions and threatened to do some more "sick (expletive)" once he was acquitted, Gard wrote.
In one instance, Atwood told a fellow inmate he would never go back to prison again because of a witness, Gard wrote.
On StarNet: Follow the news and events at Pima County's courthouses in Kim Smith's blog, At the Courthouse, at azstarnet.com/courthouse
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or email@example.com