Sat Jul 30 23:09:14 PDT 2016
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Teaser's shooting trial delayed again amid questions about capital punishment
Ken Curtis

Death row inmates and those awaiting trial on capital murder charges in Alabama could be impacted by an ongoing Florida court case recently ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court. Houston County Circuit Judge Brad Mendheim this month delayed indefinitely the trial of Ryan Clark Petersen who is accused of gunning down three people in 2012 at Teasers, a Wicksburg strip club. In his order, Mendeim cites Hurst vs. Florida, an ongoing case involving death row inmate Timothy Hurst. Mendeim—and defense attorneys and prosecutors agreed---inferred the Hurst case could potentially impact death sentences in Alabama. In the Hurst case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor reaffirmed the Sixth Amendment’s requirement that juries, not judges, must decide the sentence for those convicted of captial murder. The sentencing scheme in Alabama and Florida allows a jury to recommend—not necessarily on a unanimous vote—whether convicted defendants should receive the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. The judge is not bound by the recommendation. Florida now must re-sentence Hurst—convicted of killing and robbing a restaurant manager before placing her body in a large freezer-- by allowing a jury to determine whether the facts of his case merit the death penalty. Another issue to Mendheim is a case involving an Alabama inmate whose appeal is based upon the Hurst case. The U.S. Supreme Court, on May 2, tossed an Alabama appeals court judgment against Bart Johnson. The state Court of Criminal Appeals must now reconsider the case of Johnson who was sentenced to death in the 2009 killing of a Pelham police officer. "This ruling implicates all (capital) cases in Alabama," said Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of Equal Justice Initiative. "We have argued that Alabama's statute no longer conforms to current constitutional requirements.” (Credit: AL.com). The basis for the Hurst case stems from a ruling involving Ring vs. Arizona. That western state has traditionally sentenced in the same fashion as Alabama and Florida. For the death penalty to be an option certain criteria must be met. In Petersen’s case, he was charged with capital murder because two or more people were killed. His attorney, Ben Freeman, favors the delay because the Hurst case must be resolved before Petersen is tried. It’s unknown at this time when that will happen. It’s also not known what effect the ruling will have on the 185 inmates---13 sentenced in Houston County—who are on death row.

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