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State v. Amaral

Supreme Court of Arizona

February 4, 2016

STATE OF ARIZONA, Respondent,
v.
TRAVIS WADE AMARAL, Petitioner

         Petition for certiorari filed at, 04/29/2016

          On Review from the Superior Court in Yuma County. The Honorable Lawrence C. Kenworthy, Judge. No. CR9218761. Memorandum Decision of the Court of Appeals, Division One, 1 CA-CR 13-0502. Filed Feb. 12, 2015.

          On Review from the Superior Court in Yuma County, AFFIRMED. Memorandum Decision of the Court of Appeals, Division One, VACATED.

         Jon R. Smith, Yuma County Attorney, Charles Platt (argued), Deputy County Attorney, Yuma, Attorneys for State of Arizona.

         Michael A. Breeze, Yuma County Public Defender, Edward F. McGee (argued), Deputy Public Defender, Yuma, Attorneys for Travis Wade Amaral.

         Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General, John R. Lopez IV, Solicitor General, Lacey Stover Gard, Chief Counsel, Capital Litigation Section, Tucson, Attorneys for Amicus Curiae Arizona Attorney General.

         JUSTICE BRUTINEL authored the opinion of the Court, in which CHIEF JUSTICE BALES, VICE CHIEF JUSTICE PELANDER, and JUSTICES TIMMER and BERCH (RETIRED) joined.

          OPINION

Page 926

          BRUTINEL, JUSTICE:

         [¶1] Travis Wade Amaral, then seventeen years old, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and other charges and was sentenced to life in prison. We consider whether advances in juvenile psychology and neurology in the intervening twenty-two years support a " colorable claim" of newly discovered evidence requiring an evidentiary hearing on Amaral's petition for post-conviction relief. Because the sentencing court considered the distinctive attributes of Amaral's youth, we hold that Amaral did not present a colorable claim.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] In 1993, Amaral pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted armed robbery for crimes committed when he was sixteen years old. Amaral was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after twenty-five years for each of the murder convictions and to 7.5 years' imprisonment for attempted armed robbery. The sentences were ordered to run consecutively. Amaral must serve a minimum of 57.5 years before he is parole eligible.

         [¶3] Amaral claimed he committed the crimes at the direction of Greg Dickens, who served as a counselor at a placement center for violent juveniles where Amaral had previously lived. The crimes were committed while he was staying with Dickens. According to Amaral, Dickens suggested the robbery, gave him a loaded revolver, and told him to leave " no witnesses." Dr. Judith Becker, a clinical psychologist who interviewed Amaral before sentencing, opined that Dickens was a pedophile who was sexually abusing Amaral.

         [¶4] At Amaral's mitigation hearing, the defense presented testimony from his parents and Dr. Becker as to Amaral's mental health and maturity at the time of the murders and sentencing. The testimony highlighted Amaral's mental health issues, his immaturity, and Dickens' influence over him. Amaral's father testified that even though Amaral was seventeen years old at the time of sentencing, he had the maturity level of a fourteen or fifteen year old. Dr. Becker opined that Amaral's maturity level was more like that of a thirteen or fourteen year old at that time. Further, she testified that Amaral suffered from attention deficit disorder and displayed intermittent explosive disorder, bipolar disorder, and conduct disorder. According to Dr. Becker, individuals with attention deficit disorder are impulsive and have difficulty controlling their behavior in certain circumstances. She also testified that this effect is more pronounced if, like Amaral, that individual is agitated and has a conduct disorder. Dr. Becker attributed Amaral's immaturity to his attention deficit disorder, the time he spent in institutions, the custody war waged by his parents, and Dickens' pedophilic relationship with him.

         [¶5] The trial judge considered this testimony during sentencing and determined that the sentences ...


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