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Kansas death penalty ruled unconstitutional

State's high court throws out law in decision affecting 6 inmates

Supreme Court
Capital Punishment

(CNN) -- Six inmates will be resentenced and avoid execution after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday that the state's death penalty law is unconstitutional.

In its 4-3 opinion, the state high court said the 1994 law is flawed because of a provision about how jurors should weigh death penalty arguments during sentencing.

The Kansas law states that when juries find arguments for and against execution equal, their decision should favor a death sentence.

But a majority of the justices said such a requirement violates the Eighth and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution, according to court officials.

The Eighth Amendment addresses "cruel and unusual punishment." The 14th Amendment addresses guaranteed rights, due process and equal protection for U.S. citizens.

The Kansas statute's "express language was clearly intended to mandate the imposition of a death sentence when the existence of aggravating circumstances was not outweighed by any mitigating circumstances," the opinion states.

The Kansas court said it would be up to the Legislature to write a law that is constitutional.

Kansas Supreme Court spokesman Ron Keefover said the six death row inmates affected by Friday's ruling will be resentenced, including one case in which an appeal has not yet been filed.

"These cases will be immediately remanded for resentencing without the death penalty," Keefover said.

The ruling came in an appeal brought on behalf of Michael L. Marsh II, who was convicted of capital murder and arson in the June 1996 deaths of Marry Ane Pusch and her daughter.

Marry Ane and her 19-month-old daughter, Marry Elizabeth, were murdered in their Wichita home. Marry Ane was shot and stabbed, and the child left to burn to death in a fire.

In addition to addressing the death penalty issue, the justices unanimously ordered a new trial for Marsh on the capital murder conviction in the girl's death and aggravated arson charge, saying the trial judge prejudiced the defense by not admitting evidence that Pusch's husband may have been involved in the slayings.

Marsh remains convicted of aggravated burglary and premeditated first-degree murder in Pusch's death. The court affirmed his sentence on those charges of 42 years in prison without the option of parole.

CNN's Stacia Deshishku contributed to this report.

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