Skip to comments.Court rules against Tenn. death row inmate
Posted on 06/27/2005 8:28:47 PM PDT by SmithL
WASHINGTON The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a lower court improperly gave a Tennessee death row inmate a second chance, infringing on the state's right to execute the man. But four justices said the judicial system failed the inmate.
Justices found that the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati abused its discretion when it reopened Gregory Thompson's case. Thompson had already lost an appeal there, and at the Supreme Court.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing the majority opinion, said that the appeals court's action was extraordinary, and that it infringed on the state's right to execute Thompson.
Thompson was convicted of using a rusty butcher knife in 1985 to kill Brenda Blanton Lane, a 28-year-old former newspaper reporter, whom he abducted from a Wal-Mart parking lot in Shelbyville, Tenn., drove to a remote area and killed. Thompson confessed to the crime.
"Tennessee expended considerable time and resources in seeking to enforce a capital sentence rendered 20 years ago, a sentence that reflects the judgment of the citizens of Tennessee that Thompson's crimes merit the ultimate punishment," Kennedy wrote.
Thompson was to be executed last year, but that was called off after the appeals court vacated an earlier ruling against him.
The change of heart stemmed from the research of appellate Judge Richard F. Suhrheinrich, who found the opinion of an expert witness who believed Thompson suffered from schizophrenia. The expert's opinion had not been entered into the record.
Justice Stephen Breyer praised the judge and said that the expert's opinion was important. "To consider the case without reference to it could mean a miscarriage of justice," he wrote in a dissent, joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Breyer also read part of his dissent from the bench and said he fears that the message to lower courts is "they are not to act to cure serious injustice in similar cases."
Tennessee's victory follows several state losses in death penalty cases. In the past two weeks, the Supreme Court has thrown out the death sentences of inmates in Pennsylvania and Texas. Earlier this year, the court ruled 5-4 that states could not execute juvenile killers.
The case is Bell v. Thompson, 04-514.
Use the murder weapon, the same rusty butcher knife, on him.
20 years? It's way past time for that animal to be put down
If they can't find that rusty knife I got a rusty knife I will give them.
"What distinguishes the rule of law from the dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority is the absolutely indispensable requirement that judicial opinions be grounded in consistently applied principle. That is what prevents judges from ruling now this way, now thatthumbs up or thumbs downas their personal preferences dictate."
This quote is from Justice Scalia's dissent in the Kentucky 10 Commandments case. I think this has been, perhaps, the most schizophrenic SCOTUS term in my memory, particularly where the death penalty was concerned. And, apparently, it is Justice O'Connor's fault, since I think she's the swing vote in most of these cases. In any case, they have been rather inconsistent and whimsical as to which cases are upheld and which aren't. Sort of like which 10 Commandments monuments are ok and which aren't....or which affirmative action programs are ok and which aren't.