The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday tossed out the death sentence of convicted murderer Steven James, who was sentenced to die for the brutal 1981 murder of a man he targeted for being gay.
The reason: the Court feels James had ineffective counsel during the sentencing phase of his trial.
See our story on James -- and the Court's written opinion -- here.
In the Court's written opinion, Judge William A. Fletcher wrote the following:
"We conclude that counsel's complete failure to investigate and present mitigating evidenceof James' troubled childhood, his mental illness, and his history of chronic drug abuse constituted deficient performance," Fletcher writes in the opinion. "We further conclude that this failure prejudiced James because it prevented the sentencing judge from learning that James had 'the kind of troubled history we have declared relevant to assessing a defendant's moral culpability."
Fletcher goes on to point out James' particularly rough childhood, which included exposure to violence and beatings by his adoptive parents.
In its ruling, th court ordered the U.S. District Court of Arizona to give prosecutors time to retry James if they again wish to seek the death penalty. If prosecutors opt to not seek the death penalty, James will automatically be sentenced to life in prison.
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