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Name: Tan v. Runnels
Case #: 04-55775
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 07/07/2005

Appellants were convicted of first degree murder during a robbery of Dr. Ngor, an acclaimed actor whose life in Cambodia was portrayed in the movie “The Killing Fields.” Petitioners alleged that the prosecutor committed misconduct in his opening and closing arguments by appealing to the jurors’ passions and sympathy by describing Dr. Ngor’s life in Cambodia, and arguing a “fictionalized” story about a struggle over a locket Dr. Ngor allegedly wore with a picture of his late wife in it. The state Court of Appeal rejected the argument and affirmed the convictions. The federal district court granted appellants’ habeas petitions, finding that the prosecution argued facts not in evidence, presented as true a fact which was false, and appealed inappropriately to the jurors’ passions and prejudices. The federal appellate court reversed the granting of the habeas petition. The state court’s determination that there was no prosecutorial misconduct was not an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, and was not based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. Dr. Ngor’s story was relevant to the prosecutor’s theory of robbery/murder. Further, the prosecutor did not manipulate or misstate the evidence. and the court gave multiple protective instructions to the juries on these issues. Also, the evidence against petitioners was not close.