WASHINGTON (CN) - The high court will consider whether speedy trial rights suffered because prosecution under the death penalty caused the state not to fund counsel for an indigent defendant for five years.
Jonathan Edward Boyer had tried to rob a trucker named Bradlee Marsh who offered him and his brother a ride as they walked along a roadway in Sulphur, La. After Marsh refused to give Boyer money, Boyer shot Marsh three times in the head, and stole his money and a silver chain. Marsh died from his injuries, and police apprehended Boyer a month later in Jacksonville, Fla.
Five years after Louisiana prosecutors indicted Boyer for first-degree murder, a death penalty crime, they reduced the charge to second-degree murder.
A jury convicted Boyer of that charge and of armed robbery with the use of a firearm after a week long trial in 2009. Boyer is serving life without the possibility of parole.
The Louisiana Court of Appeal's Third Circuit affirmed the convictions in February 2011, rejecting Boyer's speedy trial arguments among other claims.
Though the court agreed that it was "presumptively prejudicial" that Boyer spent over seven years between his arrest and conviction behind bars, it said Louisiana's "funding crisis" excused the delay.
"While the incident before the trial court was a very serious offense, it was not overly complicated," the court found. "Defendant confessed to the crime. His brother, who was at the scene, testified that defendant killed the victim. But for the procedural problem, lack of funding for a capital case, the case would have progressed in a timely manner."
The court called Boyer's speedy trial claims "more perfunctory than aggressive."
"Defendant alleges that the seven-year pretrial incarceration severely prejudiced his case in that he lost his job, suffered a mental breakdown, became psychotic, and was unable to assist with his defense," the decision states. "Moreover, witnesses died or disappeared."
But the court found that the testimony would not have been admissible, and it rejected the other claims too.
In taking up the case Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court limited its review to the speedy trial claims alone.
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