The Washington State Supreme Court threw out a death sentence yesterday for a man who raped and killed a 65-year-old woman, saying the shackles he was forced to wear in court could have influenced jurors. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer says that an 8-1 decision upheld Cecil Davis’ aggravated-murder conviction even though at least one juror spotted his concealed shackles, finding that there was “overwhelming evidence” that Davis killed the woman. The court said the leg restraints could have affected Davis’ sentence because jurors are asked to consider how dangerous defendants are when deciding whether they should serve life in prison or be executed. Shackles tell jurors a defendant is seen as dangerous and unmanageable, the court had ruled earlier.
Prosecutors must decide whether to ask a new jury to sentence Davis to death or let him spend the rest of his life behind bars. It was not the first time that a defendant’s leg chains have become an issue in a death penalty case. The death sentence of Charles Ben Finch was overturned on appeal because jurors saw him in restraints, but Finch — who was convicted of killing a sheriff’s deputy and another man in 1994 — later committed suicide.