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Mt. Olive inmate denied writ in bid to overturn 1998 murder conviction

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The state Supreme Court has denied a writ of habeas corpus filed by an inmate at the Mt. Olive Correctional Complex currently serving a life sentence for murder.

James Thomas Samples had been sentenced to life without a recommendation for mercy following his 1988 conviction in Kanawha County Circuit Court for first degree murder during commission of an aggravated robbery and burglary.

Samples has now tried on at least three occasions to convince the court to reconsider his case, beginning with his original conviction 16 years ago which he'd appealed but was denied.

A court-appointed lawyer subsequently filed a petition for habeas corpus, alleging errors in jury selection, ineffective assistance of counsel and insufficiency of the indictment against him. That writ, also, was denied by Kanawha County Circuit Court in 2011 and the ruling affirmed last year by the supreme court.

In July, Samples filed another petition for habeas corpus, this time alleging that both his trial counsel as well as the appointed counsel were ineffective because two witnesses were permitted to testify while dressed in prison garb and that allowing them take the stand dressed like prisoners made it impossible for him to get a fair trial. That petition was also dismissed by circuit court in July 2013 but without prejudice, meaning Samples could refile with factual support to substantiate his allegations.

Samples instead appealed that 2013 order, asking the high court to "hold a criminal defendant has a constitutional right to have his incarcerated witnesses testify in civilian clothing rather than in prison attire."

The supreme court, however, in their memorandum opinion cited previous rulings in 1979 and 1983 and reaffirmed in 2000 and 2008 that criminal defendants have no constitutional right to have witnesses appear at trial without physical restraints or in civilian attire. The court declined to revisit the issue, "especially given that petitioner has already had a fair and full opportunity to raise all relevant issues in a prior habeas proceeding."