There were flashes of incredulity and anger yesterday from Supreme Court justices as they considered whether Tennessee prosecutors had committed misconduct in obtaining and defending a death sentence against a man who murdered a Memphis couple in 1980, reports the New York Times. Gary Cone admitted to the murders; the only defense he offered was that he had been in an amphetamine psychosis. It turned out that prosecutors had withheld evidence from Cone's lawyers that would have supported his claim.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. suggested that the case had arrived at the Supreme Court under false pretenses. The legal issue is the technical one of whether and when federal courts are free to reconsider state court rulings in capital cases. The question actually animating the argument was what should follow from what several of the justices seemed to accept was serious prosecutorial misconduct.