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US appeals court orders hearing for Oklahoma man given death penalty in state trooper's death

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OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma man sentenced to death for fatally shooting a state trooper deserves a hearing to determine whether his attorneys adequately defended him during the trial's penalty phase, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ordered a federal judge to convene an evidentiary hearing for Kenneth Eugene Barrett, of Vian. Barrett, 54, was convicted of intentionally killing a state law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of his duty, which is punishable by the death penalty.

Prosecutors say he opened fire on Trooper David "Rocky" Eales and other members of his Oklahoma Highway Patrol tactical team as they were about to conduct a drug raid on his cabin in Sequoyah County. Eales, 49, was killed and another trooper with him in the lead vehicle was wounded.

Barrett argued that he didn't know he was firing at law enforcement officers, pointing out that Eales' vehicle was an unmarked white Ford Bronco that had no emergency lights.

In his appeal, Barrett contends that his trial lawyers were ineffective because they failed to present evidence about his troubled mental state and background that might have spared him the death penalty.

The appellate court's ruling states Barrett's jury heard evidence of his drug use, including a state prison employee's testimony that he had been using marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin, tranquilizers and other drugs up until the time of the shooting.

But none of the defense witnesses discussed Barrett's mental health or troubled background in any significant detail, it says.

"Defendant's own history suggests mental illness," the appellate decision says. In January 1986, Barrett attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest with a shotgun and received psychiatric treatment. Later that year, he was involuntarily committed to a hospital after complaints from his mother and ex-wife that he was violent and suicidal, according to the ruling.

Barrett's attorney, David Autry of Oklahoma City, and U.S. Attorney Mark Green did not return telephone calls seeking comment on the ruling.

Barrett's 2005 federal trial marked the third time Barrett had been tried for Eales' death. A Sequoyah County jury deadlocked on a murder charge against Barrett in 2002. At a subsequent state trial in 2004, Barrett was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to 30 years in state prison.

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