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Conviction of courthouse shooter will stand

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — A federal appeals court on Tuesday let stand the conviction of Susan Berkovitz, who was sentenced to life in prison plus 15 years for killing her cousin and wounding her cousin’s lawyer in a shooting at the Hennepin County Government Center in 2003.

Berkovitz had claimed she did not knowingly and voluntarily waive her right to testify at her trial. She said she was the victim of undue influence and coercion by her court-appointed lawyers.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

"Here, Berkovitz voluntarily and knowingly waived her right to testify," their opinion said. "She was not unduly influenced or coerced when her trial counsels stated that they were a ‘hundred five percent sure’ that she should not testify and that ‘(i)f we should allow you to testify we are going to lose.’"

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The panel wrote that it was clear from the record that Berkovitz understood she had both the right to testify and the right to remain silent. The appeals court also declined her request that it adopt a rule requiring all defendants who do not testify to waive their right to testify on the record.

Berkovitz was convicted in 2004 of killing Shelley Joseph-Kordell and wounding Joseph-Kordell’s attorney, Richard Hendrickson. The shooting culminated a long legal battle over the $170,000 estate of Berkovitz’s father. Berkovitz had accused them of financial misconduct.

On the Net:

The opinion is at http://www.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/07/10/063975P.pdf (PDF)

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