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Inmate denied bid for new trial

April 10, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

A change of federal law may have cost a prison inmate a chance at freedom.

Jeffrey Rae Bastine, who was sentenced to life in prison for a 1992 attempted murder, lost his right to have his case heard in a post-conviction hearing Thursday when Washington County Circuit Judge John H. McDowell denied his attorney's request for a delay.

Inmates can file for post-conviction relief after all their other appeals have been exhausted.

Bastine filed a motion for post-conviction relief last year in order to meet a new deadline set by Congress, which placed a one-year limit for filing such motions.

Public defender Robert Barry said the argument Bastine made in his motion lacked merit.

However, Barry said he believes Bastine does have legitimate grounds. He asked for the hearing to be delayed so he could change the motion and prepare for a new hearing.

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McDowell denied the request.

McDowell said Barry had ample time to change the motion in the months before Thursday's hearing.

Barry said he has not had time to prepare for the case because the public defender's office has been swamped with petitions from inmates trying to beat the new deadline.

McDowell was unimpressed.

"I can empathize with your position, but this is a case that was filed 15 months ago, with your appearance having been entered 13 months ago," he said.

Barry said he simply did not have time to read the hundreds of pages of trial transcripts and research the relevant areas of the law for all the cases.

He said he thinks Bastine has a legitimate claim, but it is a complicated area of the law.

In June 1992, Fred Lee Gardin was shot during a fight in the 400 block of Sumans Avenue. Bastine contends he was aiming for another man.

The question is whether a man can be convicted for the attempted murder of a man he was not trying to shoot. Barry said higher courts have ruled both ways on the issue.

"It's a fairly technical issue, but that's sort of what you're looking for at this point," Barry said.

Barry said Bastine's options are limited. He can ask the Court of Special Appeals to overturn McDowell's decision.

Barry said he has never had a judge deny a request to delay this kind of hearing because he has never been in a situation in which he has been so inundated that he has not had time to prepare.

"I don't make this request lightly," he told McDowell.

Public defenders have always been busy but Barry said in an interview that the situation become untenable after Congress set the April 1997 deadline for prisoners to file their petitions.

Barry suggested Congress' reasons for changing the law were political.

As a result of Thursday's ruling, Bastine may have lost his last chance to win freedom.

Even if he were given a new trial, he would face an uphill battle.

Bastine also was sentenced to 20 years in prison for battery and reckless endangerment in the shooting of Wynette Hunter.

Nine bullets were fired into the crowd that evening. Gardin was left in a wheelchair and Hunter suffered brain damage.

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