Sotomayor Votes In Death Row Case

Justice Sonia Sotomayor made what looks like her first public decision as a Supreme Court judge. She voted unsuccessfully with the court's liberal bloc to stop the execution of an Ohio death row inmate.

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Justice Sonia Sotomayor has cast her first vote on the Supreme Court. She voted last night in an Ohio death penalty case, joining the minority. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg has the story.

NINA TOTENBERG: No member of the Supreme Court voted to review the death sentence imposed on Jason Getsy, the trigger man in an Ohio murder for hire. But four justices, including Sotomayor, voted to delay the execution in order to review a lower court decision that barred Getsy from challenging the state's lethal injection procedures.

Sotomayor joined the court's three most liberal members in voting for the temporary delay, but they were outvoted by the court's five-member conservative bloc, and today Getsy was executed in Ohio.

Sotomayor did not participate in another death penalty decision handed down by the Supreme Court yesterday, this one from Georgia. Over the dissent of two justices, the court ordered a federal judge in Georgia to take testimony and rule on whether new evidence that could not have been obtained at trial clearly establishes that Troy Davis is innocent of the crime he was sentenced to die for.

Davis, convicted of killing an off-duty police officer nearly 20 years ago, is currently on death row, having exhausted all his basic appeals. But as Justice John Paul Stevens observed in an opinion yesterday, seven key trial witnesses have recanted or changed their trial testimony, and three other people have implicated the prosecution's principal witness as the real shooter.

Dissenting from the court's decision ordering a hearing on the new evidence were Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Said Scalia: Davis's claim is a sure loser that will serve no purpose except to delay the state's execution of its lawful criminal judgment. Scalia noted that the Supreme Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a person who's actually innocent if that person has had a fair trial. The court has, in fact, left that question unresolved.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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