Friday, 12 January 2007

Preview of Smith v. Texas

Preview of Smith v. Texas

Mike Graczyk of Associated Press offers a preview of Smith v. Texas (05-11304), the first of three Texas death penalty receiving Supreme Court review next week. Oral argument is scheduled for Wednesday, January 17.

Graczyk's report is available via the Sherman Herald Democrat. LINK

A high-level judicial spat with life-and-death consequences involving a condemned Texas man is back before the U.S. Supreme Court for an unusual second time in three years. Justices agreed to look again at LaRoyce Lathair Smith’s argument that the jury in his sentencing phase was given deficient instructions after Texas’s top criminal appeals court ignored their concerns about the jury’s decision more than a decade ago.

Smith is one of three condemned Texas men whose cases are being argued before justices Wednesday. Smith argues his sentencing jury wasn’t allowed to sufficiently consider the abuse and neglect he suffered as a child.

The two others, Brent Ray Brewer and Jalil Abdul-Kabir, are raising similar claims after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned down their appeals. The Supreme Court has combined their two cases into a single argument, also to be heard on Wednesday.

The state appeals court upheld Smith’s conviction despite the high court’s concerns.

“My argument is the Court of Criminal Appeals didn’t comply to the holding of the Supreme Court decision,” said Jordan Steiker, Smith’s lawyer.

The questions presented in the case are here.

He also briefly describes the two other cases that have been combined which also be heard on Wednesday.

Immediately following the Smith arguments, justices were to hear the two combined Texas death penalty cases that raise similar claims but focus on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Abdul-Kabir, also known as Ted Calvin Cole, was convicted in 1988 of strangling a San Angelo man, Raymond Richardson, 66, with a dog leash during a $20 robbery at his home. Abdul-Kabir’s lawyers contend the jury that condemned him had no way, under the two-question procedure, to take into account the neglect, mistreatment and abandonment that left him with emotional and psychological scars and contributed to his violent adult behavior.

The 5th Circuit, which handles Texas death penalty appeals and has upheld the death sentences of Abdul-Kabir and Brewer, “refused to yield to the letter or the spirit” of the Supreme Court’s previous decisions related to the sentencing rules, his lawyers said when they asked for the high court review. Instead, the New Orleans-based appeals court “continues to veer from the course” and is “busily crafting new ’screening tests’ to evade” the Supreme Court’s guidance, Abdul-Kabir’s attorneys said.

The same sentencing problems applied to Brewer, convicted of fatally stabbing a 66-year-old Amarillo man, Robert Laminack, who in 1990 was attacked outside his flooring business and robbed of his wallet containing $140. Brewer was abused as a child and suffered from mental illness, factors his jurors weren’t allowed to consider, according to his petition.

The questions presented in Abdul-Kabir (05-11284) and Brewer (05-11287) are here.

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