Arizona Killer Scores Supreme Court Reversal

     WASHINGTON (CN) — An Arizona jury that presided over a capital case should have been informed that the killer was not eligible for parole, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
     Though the summary reversal today focuses only on the court proceedings, a dissenting opinion recites the details of the murder of James Panzarella.
     The man’s body was found bound to a metal chair in his kitchen on March 25, 2001. His throat was slit.
     Earlier that day, Panzarella had brought Shawn Lynch and Michael Sehwani to his house after meeting the men at a Scottsdale bar.
     Sehwani called a prostitute over to Panzarella’s house, spent an hour with her in Panzarella’s bedroom and paid her $300 with two checks from Panzarella’s checkbook.
     Lynch and Sehwani took Panzarella’s credit and debit cards, and went on a spending spree.
     Police found some receipts from those purchases on Panzarella’s bloodied floor. They found Lynch and Sehwani at a motel two days after the killing.
     Sehwani was wearing Everlast shoes bought with Panzarella’s cards, and Lynch’s shoes were stained with Panzarella’s blood. Panzarella’s car keys and a blood-stained sweater also sat in the back seat of their truck.
     After a jury convicted Lynch of first-degree murder, kidnapping, armed robbery and burglary, Arizona sought and received the death penalty.
     Lynch argued on appeal that the proceedings trampled precedent from the 1994 case Simmons v. South Carolina, which says capital defendants have a due-process right to juries of their parole ineligibility if their “future dangerousness is at issue, and the only sentencing alternative to death available to the jury is life imprisonment without possibility of parole.”
     Though parole is available only to individuals who committed a felony before January 1, 1994, in Arizona, the court granted a motion by the state that prevent Lynch’s defense counsel from informing the jury that the only alternative sentence to death was life without the possibility of parole.
     The Arizona Supreme Court then affirmed, saying Lynch had no right to inform the jury of his parole ineligibility.
     Reversing 6-2 today, the Supreme Court said “that conclusion conflicts with this court’s precedents.”
     “Simmons said that the potential for future ‘legislative reform’ could not justify refusing a parole-ineligibility instruction,” the opinion concludes. “If it were otherwise, a state could always argue that its legislature might pass a law rendering the defendant parole eligible. Accordingly, as this court later explained, ‘the dispositive fact in Simmons was that the defendant conclusively established his parole ineligibility under state law at the time of his trial.’ In this case, the Arizona Supreme Court confirmed that parole was unavailable to Lynch under its law. Simmons and its progeny establish Lynch’s right to inform his jury of that fact.”
     The dissenting justices meanwhile blasted their colleagues for perpetuating the error of Simmons.
     “The notion that a jury’s decision to impose a death sentence ‘would have been altered by information on the current state of the law concerning parole (which could of course be amended) is … farfetched,’ to say the least,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, joined by Justice Samuel Alito.

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