10 years later, attorneys seek new trial, sentencing for Doster

Published 3:04 am Saturday, September 3, 2016

Ten years ago this week, Oscar Roy Doster was found guilty of capital murder in the death of Gantt resident Paul LeMaster.

Oscar Roy Doster

Oscar Roy Doster

The jury deliberated for several hours before unanimously finding him guilty. Later that afternoon – on the Friday before Labor Day – they took less than 15 minutes to finish their work, recommending he serve life in prison without parole.

Weeks later, in the sentencing hearing, then-Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan sentenced Doster to death.

Death penalty cases are automatically appealed. The appellate court upheld his conviction.

At present, a second case seeking relief for Doster is on appeal to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

A New York attorney filed the Rule 32, or ineffective assistance of counsel case, seeking a new trial for his client. Or, in the alternative, attorney Evan Farber said, a new sentencing.

In Ring v. Arizona in 2002, and in Hurst v. Florida in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Sixth Amendment requires a jury to find the aggravating factors necessary for imposing the death penalty. In Florida, the jury made recommendations but the judge decided the facts.

Judge McKathan denied the Rule 32 petition in December, and the case has been appealed to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

In the 106-page brief, Doster’s legal team argues that the trial court violated Doster’s constitutional rights under Ring and Hurst when it made factual findings on evidence not considered by the jury in support of its decision to override the jury.

The attorneys also argued that Doster’s defense attorneys, Al Smith and Will Carr, failed to conduct an investigation and therefore didn’t know many facts related to the case, specifically facts related to Bobby O’Lee Phillips.

At the time of LeMaster’s death, Doster and Phillips had escaped from the Covington County Jail. Phillips later was also found guilty of capital murder in the case, and also received the death penalty.

In both cases, the evidence showed that Phillips actually shot and killed LeMaster.

The brief also states that the state relied on false evidence – that Phillips was unfamiliar with Covington County and Doster, therefore, was the leader in their crimes – in making their case.

Doster’s attorneys filed the brief with the appellate court in late June and requested oral arguments. No date for a hearing has been set.

Farber is a partner in the New York firm of Reed Smith, LLP, which is involved in a number of other judicial override cases.

Farber said that in this case, the Equal Justice Initiative filed Doster’s initial Rule 32 petition in 2012, but stated in the petition they did not expect to stay on the case. Shortly thereafter, EJI asked the Reed Smith firm to take the case, and Farber agreed to serve as Doster’s counsel.

Also listed as co-counsel are Richard P. Lewis, also of Reed Smith, and local attorney John Peek.

Both Doster, 41, and Phillips, 53, are on death row in Holman Prison near Atmore.

In a separate case, Doster pled guilty to murder in Texas in exchange for a life sentence. That murder occurred during Doster’s separate escape from the Covington County Jail.