About 100 death-row inmates who contended that their sentences were improperly determined by judges and not jurors lost their Supreme Court appeal today. The Associated Press says the 5-4 decision spares at least four states from having to decide whether to spend millions of dollars for new sentencing hearings or consent to remove convicted from death row. Two years ago, the high court said the constitutional right to a trial by jury means that jurors should weigh factors that determine whether a particular killing merits death or life in prison. Justices said later that the 2002 ruling does not apply retroactively.
Today’s case was brought by Arizona prisoner Warren Wesley Summerlin, sentenced to die more than 20 years ago by a judge who later lost his job because of a drug problem. Summerlin was convicted of raping and killing a bill collector. Had the court ruled the other way, states would have had to decide whether to pursue death sentences for 85 Arizona inmates and about 25 others in Idaho, Montana, and Nebraska.