News Update 03.21.08
Yesterday a pretrial hearing was held at Fort Bragg for Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, accused of killing two superior officers in Iraq. His attorneys urged the judge to keep gruesome crime scene photos out of evidence, and also asked that Martinez’s expert be allowed to review evidence off-base, to ensure that communications between counsel and the expert remain confidential. Meanwhile, prosecutors asked the judge to reconsider his earlier decision to suppress a statement made by Martinez shortly after the explosion. He declined. A court martial is scheduled for late June, but could be delayed if prosecutors decide to appeal the judge’s ruling.
The Supreme Court ruled in Snyder v. Louisiana (opinion here, SCOTUSWiki background here) on Wednesday. The Court did not address the “sexiest” issue in the case; that the prosecutor made reference to OJ Simpson in a case involving a black man tried before an all-white jury. Instead, the decision focused on the State’s use of a peremptory challenge to remove an African-American from the jury pool, and whether the trial court properly ruled that it did so for non-racial reasons. You can read analysis from SCOTUSBlog here. The decision could be said to essentially be a reaffirmation of Batson and Miller-El (see below), with the happy addition of Justices Alito and Roberts on the side of good. CDW notes some other possible interpretations.
In Georgia, Republican legislators have put a bill through the House that would allow a person to be sentenced to death even if two members of the jury voted for life. Georgia would become only the fifth state to allow a death sentence by means other than a unanimous jury vote. You can read the bill here. I note that the bill started off as a perfectly reasonable measure, which would have allowed prosecutors to seek life without parole in aggravated murder cases without first seeking the death penalty.
In Texas, Thomas Miller-El (of Miller-El v. Dretke) has entered a plea to the murder for which he was originally sentenced to death. Three years ago, the US Supreme Court reversed Miller-El’s death sentence after finding that jury selection at his trial had been tainted by racial bias. The Court found that the prosecutor questioned black and white prospective jurors differently, claimed to strike black jurors for reasons it did not strike white jurors, and that the prosecutor’s office had engaged in pattern of racially discriminatory jury selection over the years. The opinion is online here. Miller-El will serve life in prison.