A divided U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the death sentence of a California man, even though two of the four special circumstances that the jury relied upon in finding him eligible for the death penalty later were found invalid, Reuters reports. It was the first decision in a death penalty case and the first 5-4 ruling by the high court under Chief Justice John Roberts, who joined the majority in upholding the death sentence for Ronald Sanders.
Sanders was found guilty of murdering a woman in a 1981 drug-related robbery. The California Supreme Court invalidated the circumstances that the crime was committed during a burglary and that it was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel. It ruled the other circumstances were sufficient to uphold the death sentence. A federal appeals court disagreed, but the Supreme Court voided that ruling and upheld the death penalty. The 5-4 split was the typical one that preceded Roberts’ replacing Chief Justice William Rehnquist, with the four more liberal justices dissenting.