The Louisiana Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for a woman who was sentenced to life in prison for murder of her husband.
Renaldo Curley’s Death
In March 2005, Catina Curley shot and killed her husband of 10 years, Renaldo Curley, at their home in New Orleans. Curley told police that she had been trying to flee her house during an argument because she feared her husband would beat her. Curley told authorities that she grabbed a revolver and it went off accidentally as she was pointing it at the ground. Curley said that the bullet ricocheted into her husband’s chest.
Curley was charged with second-degree murder in connection with the shooting. Curley’s original attorney, Lon Burns, had her plead not guilty at her arraignment on August 9, 2005. Ten days later, Burns had the plea withdrawn and entered a new plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Attorney John Fuller replaced Burns as Curley’s attorney in September 2006. On February 26, 2007, Fuller made a motion to drop the insanity plea.
At trial, two of Curley’s children testified that they had lost count of the number of times that they had seen Renaldo beat their mother. Curley’s boss also testified about how frequently Curley would call in sick after her husband had beaten her. A coroner’s expert testified that the gun was pointed straight at Renaldo’s chest when it went off. Curley’s attorney never called an expert on battered women syndrome to testify at trial. Curley was found guilty on a 11-1 vote and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of her husband.
Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter overturned the verdict against Curley the same month that she was convicted, but the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal later reversed him. Curley retained new counsel for her appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Curley’s new attorneys, Paul Barker and Christen DeNicholas argued, “What goes through a domestic violence victim’s head when faced with recurring acts of violence is not necessarily what would go through any of our own heads when we are faced with one isolated incident… Retreat then becomes a very subjective aspect.”
At a post-conviction hearing, Fuller explained his reasoning for the decisions that he made when he defended Curley. He said, “At that point in my practice, the thinking was that we would just argue straight for a justifiable homicide (verdict), and we didn’t really take into account, relative to a not guilty by reason of insanity (plea), the opportunity to present a battered spouse expert.”
The Louisiana Supreme Court decided that Curley lacked effective assistance at trial, reversing her conviction and calling for a new trial. According to the Louisiana Supreme Court, Fuller mistakenly believed that he was barred from introducing expert testimony on battered women syndrome because Curley’s plea of not guilty by reason of insanity had been withdrawn. Fuller has since admitted that he should have called a battered spouse expert. He said, “I would say ignorance was one of the issues…, Obviously, I should have talked to or at least conferred with a battered spouse expert, but we didn’t do that.”