High Court Refuses To Block D.C. Sniper Execution

The Supreme Court on Monday turned aside efforts to block the execution of Washington, D.C.-area sniper John Allen Muhammad.

Muhammad is scheduled to die Tuesday for the October 2002 killing of Dean Harold Meyers at a gas station in Manassas, Va., during a three-week shooting spree across Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. He and former teenage accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo are also suspected of fatal shootings in Louisiana, Alabama and Arizona. Malvo is serving a life sentence.

In arguing for a stay of execution, Muhammad's attorneys argued he was poorly represented at trial because he acted as his own attorney for part of the time — even though he suffered from mental illness and brain damage.

While the high court denied Muhammad's request for a stay, three justices said the court was acting too quickly.

Muhammad still has a clemency petition before Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine.

In another case Monday, the court appeared divided over whether sentencing teenagers to life in prison with no chance of parole is cruel and unusual punishment, especially if the crime doesn't involve a murder.

The separate Florida cases involve Joe Sullivan, who was sentenced to life in prison for raping an elderly woman when he was 13, and Terrance Graham, who was involved in armed robberies at 16 and 17.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said "because of immaturity, you can't really judge a teenager at the point of sentencing."

But Justice Samuel Alito wondered why someone who commits rape, but doesn't kill the victim, must get a second chance.

Graham is now 22; Sullivan is 33.

In other business, the justices turned down a bid by an Oklahoma hospital to review an $18 million judgment involving the death of an infant for possible conflict of interest between the trial judge and the plaintiffs' attorney.

Brittany and Brandon Shinn won a lawsuit against Oklahoma Children's Hospital after their son died of injuries sustained when a nurse bumped the baby's head on a nightstand and failed to seek treatment.

During the trial, the hospital asked Oklahoma County District Judge Barbara Swinton to recuse herself because the Shinns' attorney, Gerald Durbin, had served as co-chairman of Swinton's re-election campaign.

Swinton refused the request, saying her husband was actually running her campaign, and noting that she ran unopposed. An appellate court agreed with Swinton's decision not to step down, and the hospital did not include the issue in its appeal of the verdict.

But in June, the Supreme Court ruled that elected judges must step down from cases involving large campaign contributors to avoid the appearance of bias, so the hospital asked the justices to review the case.

The Shinns had argued the court should not hear the case because the recusal was not part of the hospital's state appeal. In addition, Swinton had returned $719.77 of Durbin's $1,000 contribution because she ran unopposed.

From NPR and wire reports

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.