Death Sentence Blamed on Bad Lawyering

A death-row inmate is entitled to a new sentencing proceeding because his trial lawyer failed to investigate and present evidence of childhood abuse and its link to learning and behavioral problems, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held.

Seifullah Abdul-Salaam Jr. is entitled to habeas corpus relief, the court held in a July 12 opinion by Judge Michael A. Chagares.

The state court unreasonably applied federal constitutional law when it held that trial counsel made a reasonable strategic decision to fail to even investigate Abdul-Salaam’s educational and juvenile records, the court said.

Counsel failed to obtain numerous family witnesses and school records that would have demonstrated serious abuse, deprivation, and behavioral problems that improved when Abdul-Salaam was removed from his home and worsened when he was sent back, the appeals court said.

Michael Wiseman, of Swarthmore, Pa., and the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania represented Abdul-Salaam. The Cumberland County Office of District Attorney represented the state.

The case is Abdul-Salaam v. Pa. Dep’t of Corr., 2018 BL 247500, 3d Cir., 14-9001, 7/12/18.

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To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at