The Supreme Court yesterday restored a death sentence for a California man who robbed and brutally killed a young woman 25 years ago, the Los Angeles Times reports. The justices decided by a 5-4 vote that that jurors who decided the fate of Fernando Belmontes had weighed all the evidence – good and bad – before condemning him to die. It was another case in which the high court’s conservative majority clashed with the liberal-leaning U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco.
In this case, two sides differed over how jurors would have understood the instructions they were given in California death penalty cases in the early 1980s. 9th Circuit Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Richard Paez concluded there was a “reasonable probability” that jurors would have spared Belmontes had they been free to consider evidence of his “future conduct” behind bars. Reinhardt believed the instructions incorrectly told jurors to look back only at the crime and not at evidence that showed Belmontes “would adapt well to prison.” Justice Anthony Kennedy said the appeals court “erred by adopting a narrow, and we conclude, an unrealistic interpretation” of the jury instructions.”