NY Appeals Courts Hears Arguments on Death Penalty Law

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ALBANY, Sept. 21 – To the defense, James F. Cahill 3rd is a man of “broken mind and spirit” who deserves to live, the New York Times reports.

He killed his wife, Jill, with cyanide in 1998, as she recovered from being beaten by him with a baseball bat, and his lawyers suggest he did so because he was distraught over the breakup of his marriage.

To the prosecution, he is a man who deserves the sentence of death by lethal injection imposed by a Syracuse jury in 1999. Prosecutors say he killed his wife to stop her from testifying against him in an assault case stemming from the baseball bat attack six months earlier.

Those conflicting views are at the center of a death penalty appeal that arrives for arguments Monday at the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. The case is just the second in which the court is reviewing a death sentence under New York’s 1995 capital punishment law.

The appeal is being watched closely because the court has yet to rule on broad legal questions, like whether the law violates the state Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The court overturned the state’s first death penalty sentence last year, but the ruling was narrowly constructed. “In the last case, the court did not decide the fundamental challenges to the death penalty,” said Ronald J. Tabak, a New York death penalty lawyer. “Until they do, the constitutionality of the statute will remain in doubt.”

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/22/nyregion/22COUR.html

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