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June 1, 2011

Missouri Supreme Court upholds judge-imposed death sentences against Ring claims

As reported in this Kansas City Star piece, the Missouri Supreme Court yesterday rejected an effort by two death row defendants to overturn their judge-imposed death sentences. Here are the basics:

The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected appeals from two Kansas City inmates on death row for the kidnapping, rape and killing of 15-year-old Ann Harrison in 1989.

Lawyers for Michael Taylor and Roderick Nunley argued in January that each man had a constitutional right to have a jury decide whether he should be put to death.  Both men pleaded guilty in 1991 and opted to have a judge determine their sentence, rather than have a jury make the decision.  Judges subsequently sentenced both men to death.

Since then, courts have ruled that jury sentencing in death cases is a constitutional right. However, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that those rulings do not apply retroactively to Nunley and Taylor.  Both men, judges concluded, waived their right to jury sentencing because they thought that a judge would be more likely to sentence them to life in prison.

“Nunley cannot strategically plead guilty and waive jury sentencing in order to be sentenced by a judge knowing he had the right to jury sentencing and then claim that his constitutional rights were violated when he received his request,” Chief Justice William Ray Price Jr. wrote.

In her opinion on Taylor’s case, Judge Mary R. Russell wrote that ruling in his favor would encourage “game-play” by criminal defendants. “It essentially would encourage a defendant to waive his jury rights, take his chances with a judge and then, if he does not receive the leniency he expected from the judge, later feign confusion about having waived his right to jury sentencing so he could take his chances again before a jury,” Russell wrote.

The lengthy rulings in this case from the Missouri Supreme Court can be accessed here and here.

June 1, 2011 at 10:39 AM | Permalink


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Good for the Missouri Supreme Court. You can't ask for and receive a Bench trial and then claim it was ilegal once you get your sentence and don't agree with it!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 1, 2011 11:25:52 AM

rodsmith --

Right on the money. If I, as an AUSA, had been told by my superiors that I was to go into an appellate court and seek reversal on the basis that the trial court gave the government something it had asked for, I would have told them to find a different attorney to make the argument.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 1, 2011 10:33:50 PM

Let's not forget that Judge Gaitan contributed to this nonsense by granting the stay, which was lawless.

This family has suffered enough at the hands of judges who twist the law to favor capital murderers.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 1, 2011 10:47:47 PM

It's good to see it was resolved, but it's unlikely to have an impact soon. Missouri has at least 14 murderers who could have their dates set but their out of lethal injection drugs. Until an alternative is found, they will stay on death row.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Jun 1, 2011 11:46:31 PM

i'm with you bill. I'd have told the boss sorry he asked for a bench trial. He GOT a bench trial. he doesnt' like the sentence...TOUGH SHIT!

Unless you have some kind of evidence he was FORCED to take the bench trial we're done! Find someone else to handle it!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 2, 2011 2:00:51 AM

These cases were decided 4-3. One justice flip to the other side and Taylor and Nunley get life. I am sure this will be appealed to SCOTUS.

Posted by: DaveP | Jun 3, 2011 7:15:41 PM

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