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With what pointy-tailed guy known for carrying pitchforks and possessing people’s souls has convicted murderer James Martin Kipp been associating? Could it be, hmm, SATAN? That’s right. Kipp, sentenced to death for the 1983 murder of 18-year-old Tiffany Frizzell in Long Beach, Calif., has a fixation about the devil, even going so far as calling Beelzebub his “savior.” Nonetheless, Kipp’s appellate defense lawyer, San Francisco solo practitioner Ross Thomas, says a prosecutor overstepped his bounds and inflamed jurors by talking about Kipp’s fascination with Satan during the penalty phase of his murder trial. Last Tuesday, he asked the California Supreme Court to overturn the death sentence. Specifically, Thomas told the justices that the prosecutor should not have used Kipp’s satanic worship to undermine the remorse he expressed about his crime during the sentencing phase of trial. “Otherwise, you’d be saying all people who worship Satan are killers,” Thomas argued. “We’d be prosecuting them for their beliefs. It becomes an Inquisition.” Justice Joyce Kennard asked, though, why it wouldn’t be pertinent to impeach the defendant when he’s put his general character up as a reason for leniency. Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar noted that in a jailhouse letter to his girlfriend he mentioned his desire to rape women deputies and kill their male counterparts. “I don’t believe his belief in Satan necessarily shows a lack of remorse,” Thomas responded. “His belief in Satan is unrelated to the crime.” Chief Justice Ronald George queried about whether that belief might be pertinent in some cases. To which Thomas said, “yes,” but not in Kipp’s case. He was especially upset that the prosecutor had closed his statements at sentencing by telling jurors: “This defendant, this real Martin Kipp, has murder in his heart, has Satan in his soul.” “He may be his own worst enemy,” Thomas said of Kipp. “But it doesn’t dispel the rules of evidence just because [Kipp's] dumb enough to say such things.” Kipp, born in Montana in 1958 to Mary “Baby Girl” Still Smoking of the Blackfeet Tribe, has a long criminal history of kidnapping, sexual assaults and attempted murders. He also currently faces the death penalty for the Orange County, Calif., murder of Antaya Howard in December 1983 or January 1984. That murder, as well as the other assaults and attempted killings and two attempted jail escapes, were brought up during Kipp’s sentencing also. But it was the Satan comments that occupied the California Supreme Court’s attention last week. San Diego-based Deputy Attorney General Robert Shaw argued that Kipp’s comments about the devil were relevant to the sentencing phase because Lucifer is viewed as “evil incarnate” and Kipp’s statements showed he was “outside the norms of society.” Furthermore, he said, religious beliefs were no factor because Kipp’s devilish comments — such as Satan rejuvenating his energy — are not those of a true worshiper. Kipp was expressing no “coherent religious philosophy,” he said. If anything, Shaw wrote in court papers, the prosecutor’s words about Satan should be considered harmless error. Defense lawyer Thomas shouldn’t expect much more than that, if anything. There’s pretty much a snowball’s chance in hell that the current state supreme court — which rarely reverses death penalty cases — will send this one back for retrial.

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