A 5-4 Supreme Court decision reinstated a death sentence for a West Coast rapist and murderer, reports McClatchy Newspapers. The ruling made it harder for death-row inmates to challenge jury selection. The result moves Washington state inmate Cal Coburn Brown one step closer to execution. Brown tortured and raped a woman in Palm Springs and raped, tortured and murdered another woman near the Seattle-Tacoma airport 16 years ago.
The court’s conservative majority ruled that appellate courts must tread carefully when second-guessing decisions on jury selection. In Brown’s case, the trial judge in Washington’s King County had dismissed a potential juror who seemed hesitant about imposing the death penalty. The trial judge reasoned that those doubts might cloud the juror’s decision-making. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit voided the conviction, but the Supreme Court reinstated it. Justice Anthony Kennedy said trial judges – not appellate courts – are usually best suited to evaluating potential jurors’ “demeanor” and “nonverbal communication.” Dissenter John Paul Stevens complained that the court majority seemed to be encouraging the inclusion of jurors who’d impose the death penalty while excluding those who wouldn’t vote to execute.