Attorney General Jim Jones contends the University of Idaho Legal Aid Clinic's help with two Death Row inmates' attempts to marry their fiancees is inappropriate and will wind up costing taxpayers money.
"Just on a philosophical level, it seems to be rather a strange thing to have the Legal Aid Clinic involved in," Jones said Thursday. "Quite frankly, I would feel better if someone other than people who work for the state were behind the effort to help Death Row inmates' love lives."But the supervising attorney for the clinic, operated as part of the Moscow university's College of Law, said legal work for condemned murderers Thomas Eugene Creech and Thomas Henry Gibson helps ensure their rights are protected and provides valuable experience for the student involved.
Joan Fisher said arguments like Jones' have been rejected repeatedly in the courts.
"If law schools could not get involved in cases like this they would miss out on a lot of important educational experiences," she said. "We do not consider it a lark; it's a very serious issue. We're dealing with fundamental human rights."
Fisher said third-year law student Dennis Charney is representing Creech and Gibson in their bids to overturn Idaho Department of Corrections decisions barring their marriages. Creech's case is before 4th District Magistrate R. Michael Dennard and Gibson's before Magistrate John Dutcher, both in Boise.
Authorities contend security considerations prohibit the marriages, and Jones said Death Row inmates traditionally have been deprived of all civil rights because they are considered legally dead.
Even overlooking any state funding the Legal Aid Clinic receives, Jones said, its representation of Creech and Gibson will be costly to taxpayers because it requires the state to defend the Corrections Department position.
"It's something that we have to take seriously, and I'd prefer that it was on their own nickel as opposed to taxpayers' nickel," he said.
The litigation also could be more complex, lengthy and costly than it might appear, Jones said. "However, we are prepared to go the distance."
Creech, 40, was sentenced to death after pleading guilty to the May 1981 killing of fellow prison inmate David Jensen after beating him to death with a sock full of batteries. Gibson, 39, was convicted and condemned for his June 1980 strangulation of 19-year-old Kimberly Ann Palmer, whose body was later found in a stream wrapped in a sleeping bag.
General appeals for both men, rejected by Idaho courts, are pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Besides the marriage requests from Creech and Gibson, the University of Idaho Legal Aid Clinic also is assisting with the general appeal in state courts of Randall Lynn McKinney, 28, who was convicted in the April 1981 shooting death of Robert Bishop Jr., 25, Pocatello.