Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

High Court Reinstates Neo-Nazi Death Sentence

(CN) - The Supreme Court on Tuesday reinstated the death sentence of an Ohio neo-Nazi convicted of killing three people and trying to kill two others at Cleveland State University in 1982.

The justices rejected Frank G. Spisak Jr.'s claim that his case had been tainted by faulty jury instructions and his lawyer's ineffective closing argument.

At the penalty phase, Spisak's attorney had described the killings in detail, hoping to establish his client's insanity as a defense. He mentioned Spisak's admiration of Hitler, and portrayed Spisak as "sick," "twisted," "demented" and someone who was "never going to be any different." At his trial in 1983, Spisak sported a Hitler-style mustache, carried a copy of "Mein Kampf" and gave the Nazi salute to the jury.

Spisak said this approach overly emphasized the gruesome nature of his crimes, understated the facts of his mental illness and all but ignored mitigating factors.

Even if this closing argument was inadequate, the Supreme Court ruled, it was unlikely that "a better closing argument without these defects would have made a significant difference."

The high court also rejected Spisak's jury instruction challenge. He argued that the instructions unconstitutionally required the jury to consider only the mitigating factors that the jury unanimously found to be mitigating.

The justices found no such requirement.

"[T]he instructions did not say that the jury must determine the existence of each individual mitigating factor unanimously," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the unanimous court. "Neither the instructions nor the forms said anything about how - or even whether - the jury should make individual determinations that each particular mitigating circumstance existed. They focused only on the overall balancing question. And the instructions repeatedly told the jury to 'conside[r] all of the relevant evidence.'"

The Supreme Court reversed the 6th Circuit's decision to vacate Spisak's death sentence.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.