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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Friday, November 22, 2013

Oakland County's Ax-Murdering Housewife Seeks Clemency

Sorry about that headline.  But this case was all-over your evening news back in 2004, when kindergarten teacher Nancy Ann Seaman axed her long-time husband to death on Mother's Day.

Earlier this month, Ms. Seaman filed for clemency consideration with Governor Rick Snyder.  You might recall [but probably not] that 3-years ago, a federal judge granted Seaman's petition for Habeas Corpus.

Ms. Seaman was jury convicted of first degree murder before retired Oakland Circuit Judge John McDonald.  Seven-months after her trial, Judge McDonald reduced Seaman's conviction from first to second degree murder.

Both Seaman and the prosecutor appealed.  The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and reinstated Seaman's first degree murder conviction.  [The linked MCOA opinion contains a fascinating in-court colloquy about premeditation between the prosecutor and trial judge at the hearing on Seaman's motion for a new trial, beginning on page 5.]

The Court of Appeals found (by 2-1) that the trial court abused its discretion by acting as a "thirteenth juror" in reducing the conviction to second degree murder.  The intermediate appellate court also held that premeditation has no set time-frame but rather, can be established in the fleeting moment that it takes to have a "second look" at an imminent homicide.

Dissenting Judge Karen Fort Hood was troubled by the apparent "disconnect" between Seaman's self defense theory and testimony regarding "battered spouse syndrome".  Evidence relative to the latter theory was limited by the trial court.  Judge Fort Hood also commented on what she perceived as a confusion of jury instructions on the two concepts.  See the last two pages of the above link for her concise dissent.

The Michigan Supreme Court declined further review of Ms. Seaman's conviction; the Habeas petition still lingers with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan grinding through cases filed in 2009, before turning to those filed in 2010.

Carol Jacobsen, a University of Michigan Law Professor, is the executive director of the Women's Justice and Clemency Project.  They are seeking clemency for Seaman and 9 other convicted women, many of whom were tried prior to a change in the law allowing accused women to present evidence of domestic abuse.

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