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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

SCOTUS Overturns Louisiana Death Row Conviction

Prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that could have helped his defense.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday reversed the 2002 murder conviction of a Louisiana death row inmate after ruling that prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that could have helped his defense.

The ruling came in the case of Michael Wearry, who was convicted in the 1998 death of a 16-year-old pizza delivery driver near Baton Rouge.

The justices said in an unsigned opinion that prosecutors should have turned over evidence casting doubt on the credibility of a prison informant and another witness who testified against Wearry. 

The court also said the state failed to disclose medical records raising questions about a witness' description of the crime.

Lower courts had rejected Wearry's post-conviction appeals.

Wearry was implicated in the case nearly two years after the victim, Eric Walber, was found lying face down on the side of a gravel road in a rural area of Hammond, Louisiana. Officials said Walber was beaten to death. Wearry claimed that he was at a wedding reception 40 miles away at the time of the murder.

The high court said the state's trial evidence "resembles a house of cards" built on the questionable testimony of a prison informant who other inmates said was seeking revenge against Wearry. It sent the case back for a new trial.

"Beyond doubt, the newly revealed evidence suffices to undermine confidence in Wearry's conviction," the court said.

Justices Samuel Alito filed a dissent joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Alito said the jury might have convicted Wearry even with the additional evidence. He said the high court should have taken up the case on the merits to give the state "the opportunity to make its full case."

Source: The Associated Press, March 8, 2016

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