NY Justices Weigh Death Penalty
Posted Sep 11, 2007 9:55 AM CST
By Debra Cassens Weiss
New York’s highest court is considering arguments in a case that could determine the future of the death penalty in the state.
In oral arguments before the Court of Appeals on Monday, lawyers were asked whether the court should revisit a 2004 decision that struck down the state’s 1995 death penalty law, the New York Times reports.
Since the court’s 4-3 ruling in 2004, two of the justices in the majority have been replaced, one of them by former Gov. George Pataki, who strongly supports the death penalty.
The court ruled in the prior case that jury instructions issued under the 1995 statute were defective because they required jurors to be told that a deadlock over capital punishment could result in a sentence for a set number of years, the New York Sun reports. Such instructions pressured jurors to vote for death to make sure the inmate would never be released from prison, the court said then.
Prosecutors argue that in the present case, the likely sentence for defendant John B. Taylor—175 years in prison—would have exceeded his life span. In such cases, they say, jurors are not swayed, and the death penalty should stand.
The two new justices, Eugene Pigott and Theodore Jones, offered little indication of how they would vote.
Taylor, sentenced to death for his role in the murder of five workers at a Wendy’s restaurant, is the only inmate remaining on the state’s death row.