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Saturday, March 2, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Supreme Court to Review Fla. Death Penalty Rules

(CN) - The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether a judge properly imposed a death sentence for a Florida man even though a jury in the capital case was divided on his punishment.

Timothy Lee Hurst was convicted of killing Cynthia Harrison, his manager at a Popeye's restaurant in Pensacola, Fla., on May 2, 1978, and leaving her body in a freezer on the premises.

Prosecutors said Hurst's motive for stabbing Harrison to death with a box cutter was robbery, and that he spent the roughly $2000 he made off with on a shopping spree that included stops at a local Wal-Mart and a pawn shop. He was sentenced to death on April 26, 2000.

But his attorneys argue that the jury, which was divided 7-5 on the sentence, and not the judge, should have decided whether Hurst has a mental disability; if he concluded he did, that would have been a mitigating circumstance in the crime, and made Hurst ineligible for the death penalty.

The Florida Supreme Court affirmed Hurst's conviction and sentence on April 18, 2002 and again on May 1, 2014, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to grant cert in the case in October 2002. As is there custom, the Justices offer no rationale for their taking the case now.

Over the past decade, the justices have increasingly limited judge's discretion when it comes to sentencing. However, Florida continues to allow judges wide latitude when it comes to sentencing in capital cases, even allowing them to override the sentences handed down by juries.

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