LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES
Judge-Imposed Death Sentences Overturned in Three States
Aired September 2, 2003 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening to you. Thanks for joining us. I'm Anderson Cooper.
We begin tonight with the new decision that could mean new life for hundreds of people who had been previously condemned.
An inmate in Arizona saw his death sentence overturned by a federal appeals court today. Now, that decision has led to more than 100 other death sentences in Arizona, Idaho, as well as Montana, being commuted.
Frank Buckley joins us live to explain why.
Frank, first of all, explain the legal reasoning behind the ruling?
FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, this goes back to a Supreme Court ruling in June of last year when the U.S. Supreme Court said that only juries can impose the death penalty, not judges. In Arizona it's the judge that does that.
What was before the ninth circuit court of appeals in San Francisco was the question of whether that ruling applied retroactively to people already on Death Row. The court said yes, it did, in an 8-3 decision.
So now 89 inmates on Arizona's Death Row, 17 people on Idaho's Death Row and five people in Montana will have their sentences commuted to life in prison. That's a total of 111 people whose death sentences will now be life in prison instead.
As you can imagine, opponents of the death penalty are very happy with the ruling. Now, this evening I talked to Kent Kattanny (ph) from the Arizona attorney general's office, who told me that he was disappointed in the decision and said his office intends to appeal.
This ruling comes in the murder of Brenna Bailey, who was killed in 1981. Warren Summerlin was convicted of her death and is on Arizona's Death Row. But because of this ruling, Anderson, his death sentence is now life in prison.
COOPER: Frank, 111 people, Arizona, Idaho, Montana. Is this ruling going to have any affect in any other states?
BUCKLEY: Well, it doesn't mean the Death Row inmates across the country will have their sentences commuted, because in most states juries decide the death penalty, not judges.
The three states where this ruling will have an immediate impact, Arizona, Idaho and Montana, are within the ninth circuit. Two other states also allow judges to impose death sentences. They are Nebraska and Colorado. But they're covered by other appeals courts that have not overturned their rules on this question of retroactivity.
So at the moment they will not be affected. But legal experts tell us this, Anderson, that this question will almost certainly come before the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether those people on Death Row in other states who had their fate decided by a judge, should have their sentences commuted.
COOPER: All right. Definitely not the last we've heard of this. Frank Buckley, thanks very much.
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