Frentz v. Brown, No. 15-3479 (7th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Frentz, a long-time alcoholic who was taking medication to deal with delirium tremens, was arrested for the murder of his housemate. He claimed to be suffering hallucinations and filed notice that he would pursue a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity. After consulting with an expert, his attorney did not pursue the defense. Frentz was convicted of the murder and associated drug charges. The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed. His state postconviction petition alleged ineffective assistance of counsel for not pursuing the insanity defense. The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of his petition. Frentz sought habeas relief, 28 U.S.C. 2254. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The Indiana court did not unreasonably apply federal law in denying Frentz’s postconviction petition. Counsel’s decisions were consistent with researching and deciding for strategic reasons not to pursue the insanity defense: Frentz changed his story several times, suggesting attempts to fabricate a cover story, rather than confusion or an inability to remember what had happened. The testimony of jailhouse informants, if credited, indicated a callous disregard for the victim's life and suggested that Frentz had attempted to conceal his crime, beginning almost immediately after the shooting when he reportedly drove his truck up and down the road (as corroborated by other witnesses). A jury could have relied on this evidence in disbelieving any claim of mental incapacity.