KNOXVILLE — Judge Brad McCall filed an order denying convicted murderer Steven Dean McGinnis' application for post-conviction relief.
McCall presided over a hearing held regarding the application on Aug. 29. McGinnis was convicted by a jury of the Sept. 21, 2008, murder of Robert Ohl outside of Melcher-Dallas. The two were friends who got to know each other through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
He was sentenced to life in prison in November 2009 and on Feb. 23, 2011, the Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction. The post-conviction relief application was his last appeal attempt.
McGinnis based his application for post-conviction relief on many allegations, including incompetent trial counsel. At the hearing in August, the court heard from Dr. Bruce Sieleni, who never testified at McGinnis' trial despite having treated McGinnis while working for the VA and again at a state prison. At the hearing, Sieleni testified that McGinnis suffers from one of the worst cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder the doctor had ever seen. McGinnis' PTSD stems from his time serving in the first Persian Gulf War.
McCall deemed that the decision of McGinnis' trial counsel to not put on Sieleni on the stand was a strategic decision. This does not demonstrate a lack of competence by the lawyers. McCall states more than once in his ruling that McGinnis did not offer any new evidence to demonstrate that the jury's verdict at trial would have been different, if not for his attorneys' actions.
McGinnis also claimed that the attorneys should have filed a motion for change of venue, due to pretrial publicity. He failed to demonstrate how the publicity prejudiced the jury pool against him, according to McCall.
Though Sieleni testified at the post-conviction relief hearing in regard to McGinnis' mental state, there was no evidence presented regarding McGinnis' mental capacity at the time of the offense. McGinnis' own statements to law enforcement and others around the time of the event provided more evidence that McGinnis was aware of what he had done, as well as memory of the act.
"There is no question that McGinnis shot Ohl twice with his shotgun," McCall wrote. "There was substantial evidence from which the jury could conclude that he was well aware of his actions at the time of the shooting."
McGinnis remains in prison. Assistant Marion County Attorney Tiffany Kragnes argued the case for the State in the post-conviction relief hearing.