Susan Wright was convicted of first degree murder in 2004 and was sentenced to 25 years in a Texas jail. She stabbed her husband approximately 200 times while he was in asleep in bed giving her the moniker “blue-eyed butcher”. She claimed it was self defense. The prosecution claimed that she had slipped him a mild dose of the date rape drug before bedtime, then tied him to the bed and stabbed him to death. Stories conflicted of why she killed him, the type of person he was or straight malice, etc., but in the end, the blue-eyed butcher apologized to the family for taking her husband’s life. Her sentence was reduced to 20 years.
The relevance of this case is that the appeals court in Texas sent the case back for re-sentencing because the criminal defense attorney erred during the case, specifically the sentencing.
In Pennsylvania, we have two types of appeals: direct and pcra (post conviction relief act). In a direct appeal, you appeal the trial itself, that the judge made a mistake or didn’t give you a fair trial, that an error occurred during your case. In a pcra, you can appeal for many reasons, but if the case of the blue-eyed butcher had occurred in Pennsylvania, her claim would have been ineffective assistance of counsel, that her lawyer erred under the pcra. This distinction is important in Pennsylvania, because you cannot exercise your rights under the pcra until you have fully exhausted all of your direct appeal rights, which can take many years.