Virginia death row inmate Robin Lovitt was given a reprieve yesterday by the U.S. Supreme Court 4 1/2 yours before his scheduled execution, the Washington Post reports. The court will consider whether his case deserves a hearing on its merits. The case raises unusual legal questions. Four years ago, a court clerk mistakenly destroyed nearly all the evidence from his trial, including DNA from the pair of scissors that was used to kill a pool hall manager in a robbery.
Lovitt’s attorneys, including former independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, argued that Virginia’s mistake took away Lovitt’s last chance to prove his innocence — through post-conviction DNA testing, which other inmates have used to clear themselves. They also had argued that Lovitt’s trial attorneys had failed to mention their client’s upbringing at his sentencing, which could have persuaded a jury to recommend life in prison instead of death. The stay granted by the justices was unusual.