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On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Florida death row inmate’s sentencing was unconstitutional. Timothy Lee Hurst, who was convicted of a gruesome 1998 murder, found his sentence overturned after the high court discovered that a judge handed down the fatal ruling instead of a jury.

CNN reports:

The 8-1 ruling came in a challenge filed by death row inmate Timothy Lee Hurst, 37, convicted of murdering restaurant co-worker Cynthia Harrison, who was bound, gagged, and stabbed more than 60 times in 1998.

A jury recommended a death sentence for Hurst, but it was the judge who held a separate hearing and determined there were sufficient aggravating circumstances to impose the death penalty, the high court said.

“We hold this sentencing scheme unconstitutional,” the ruling said. “The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death. A jury’s recommendation is not enough.”

The order sent Hurst’s case to the Florida Supreme Court for further proceedings “not inconsistent with this opinion,” the ruling said.

The report notes that the decision could open the door to other sentencing challenges from many of Florida’s 385 men and five women now on death row. Together they “represent more 10% of the nation’s approximate 3,000 convicts awaiting execution,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union and legal experts, the report says.

Activists groups who wish to see the removal of capital punishment in legal proceedings see Hurst’s case as a victory for their cause.

Justice Samuel Alito was the only dissenter among the justices, calling to attention the horrific murder of Harrison.



Supreme Court Shoots Down Prosecutors’ Reasons For Keeping Black Jurors Off Death Row Case

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