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Will the U.S. Supreme Court add the fate of the death penalty to a term already fraught with hot-button issues like partisan gerrymandering, warrantless surveillance, and a host of contentious First Amendment disputes?
That’s the hope of an ambitious Supreme Court petition seeking to abolish the ultimate punishment. But it runs headlong into the fact that only two justices have squarely called for a reexamination of the death penalty’s constitutionality.
Abel Hidalgo challenges Arizona’s capital punishment system—which sweeps too broadly, he says, because the state’s “aggravating factors” make 99 percent of first-degree murderers death-eligible—as well as the death penalty itself, arguing it’s cruel and unusual punishment.
He’s represented by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal—among the most successful Supreme Court practitioners last term. Hidalgo also has the support of several outside groups who filed amicus briefs on his behalf, notably one from a group including Ari…

Kansas Supreme Court allows death sentence

A divided Kansas Supreme Court on Friday upheld a man's death sentence it once had thrown out in the 2004 shooting deaths of a woman and her boyfriend.

The 4-3 ruling Friday let stand the Barton County sentence of 37-year-old Sidney Gleason in the killings of Mikiala Martinez and Darren Wornkey. The state's high court had vacated the death sentence in 2014, only to be overruled a year ago by the U.S. Supreme Court and ordered to review Gleason's case again.

Writing for the court in that ruling, then-Justice Antonin Scalia - a month before his death - voiced exasperation about the Kansas court, which has tossed out death sentences 7 times in 20 years, with 5 of those decisions later reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Since Kansas reinstated capital punishment in 1994, the state high court has affirmed 4 death sentences since December 2015. In November, voters retained 4 of the Kansas justices who had been targeted for ouster, partly because of the Scalia-scorned overturned death sentences.

"When the Kansas Supreme Court time and again invalidates death sentences because it says the federal Constitution requires it, review by this court, far from undermining state autonomy, is the only possible way to vindicate it," Scalia wrote.

In October, Kansas' high court upheld the death sentence of Gary Kleypas, who was convicted of the 1996 rape and stabbing death of a Pittsburg State University student and became the first person condemned in Kansas after it reinstated the death penalty.

On Friday, the Kansas court's majority rejected Gleason's claim that his sentence was unconstitutional because it was more severe than the 25-years-to-life sentence given to an accomplice, Gleason cousin Damien Thompson.,

"The wheels of justice are turning," Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said of the ruling.

Prosecutors said Gleason and Thompson were part of a group that robbed and stabbed a 76-year-old man in his Great Bend home in February 2004. Gleason and Thompson were accused of later plotting to kill the 19-year-old Martinez because she'd been present during the robbery and they worried about what she would tell police. Authorities said they also planned to kill Wornkey, 24, if he got in the way.

Gleason repeatedly shot Wornkey as he sat in a Jeep outside a home he shared with Martinez, prosecutors said, and with Thompson drove Martinez out of town, where Thompson strangled and shot her as Gleason watched.

Thompson later agreed to testify against Gleason and was sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole for 25 years. But Thompson reneged on the agreement.

The Kansas Supreme Court later tossed out Gleason's death sentence and those imposed separately on brothers Jonathan and Reginald Carr in a 2000 quadruple-killing crime spree known as the "Wichita massacre." The court found, among other things, that juries in both cases should have been told that evidence of the men's troubled childhoods and other factors weighing against a death sentence did not have to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year rejected that, with Scalia writing there is no requirement to tell jurors in a death sentence case that they can consider a factor favoring the defendant even if it's not proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Kansas has 10 inmates now on death row but hasn't executed anyone in more than half a century.

Source: Associated Press, February 4, 2017

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