Tuesday, June 5, 2007
NEWARK (AP) -- The New Jersey Supreme Court on Tuesday vacated the murder conviction and death sentence of Donald Loftin, finding that the trial judge should have removed a juror who appeared to be biased.
The court found that juror predetermined that Loftin was guilty.Despite what the high court called "overwhelming evidence" that Loftin killed gas station worker Gary Marsh in 1992, he will get a new trial because the judge did not question other jurors to ensure that none had been tainted, the state's highest court ruled.The 6-1 ruling is the latest blow to the death penalty in New Jersey, where the Legislature is considering a bill that would abolish it. New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982 but hasn't executed anyone since 1963.
The Legislature imposed an execution moratorium in December 2005 when it formed a commission to study the death penalty.
Lawyers for Loftin did not immediately return calls for comment.The Mercer County prosecutor's office, which handled the case, also did not immediately return a message for comment.
Loftin, 41, is one of nine inmates being held on death row at New Jersey State Prison.He was sentenced to death in 1994 of murdering Marsh, who was found with a single gunshot wound to the head at the Lawrenceville Exxon station where he worked alone on a midnight shift on May 5, 1992.
On the Net: Court opinion: http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/supreme/A-78-05.pdf