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Archive for Saturday, May 17, 2008

Death sentence is overturned

May 17, 2008

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— A man who was convicted of killing a rural Goddard couple and faced execution is getting another chance to persuade jurors that he shouldn't be sentenced to die.

The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday overturned the death sentence of Gavin D. Scott, based on arguments raised by his attorneys. The justices returned the case to Sedgwick County District Court for a new sentencing hearing.

But in its unanimous ruling, the court upheld his capital murder conviction, concluding that the evidence against him was of "a direct and overwhelming nature." The justices also rejected the challenges of Scott's attorneys to the state's 1994 capital punishment law.

"The matter is remanded with instructions to hold a new capital sentencing hearing consistent with our other holdings," the court said in its unsigned opinion.

The state last executed convicted murderers, by hanging, in 1965, and its policy on capital punishment has been inconsistent throughout its history. Legislators abolished it in 1907, only to reinstate in 1935 after a spate of bloody bank robberies.

But the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all states' laws in 1972, and Kansas didn't enact a new law until 1994.

A decade later, a 4-3 majority on the Kansas court declared the law unconstitutional over a provision determining how jurors weigh evidence for and against a death sentence. But in June 2006, in a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law.

Rebecca Woodman, a state public defender representing Scott, noted that three capital murder defendants, including him, have had their cases reviewed. The Kansas Supreme Court has returned all three to district courts, blocking potential executions.

"I think it just raises the question whether this state can continue to pursue such a flawed and erroneous outcome when the error rate is so high," Woodman said, calling the error rate "100 percent."

But spokeswoman Ashley Anstaett said Attorney General Steve Six believes the state has "a responsible death penalty statute."

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