American Scene: Death penalty voided in killing of rocker’s mom

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SAN FRANCISCO — The California Supreme Court on Monday tossed out the death sentence of a man convicted of murdering rock guitarist Dave Navarro’s mother and her friend nearly 30 years ago — a ruling that could affect the cases of Scott Peterson and other death-row inmates.

The unanimous court said the trial judge presiding over the trial of John Riccardi improperly dismissed a prospective juror because of her conflicting written responses in a questionnaire asking her views of the death penalty.

The court said the judge was required to delve deeper into the juror’s death-penalty views and determine if she could impose the death sentence if she thought prosecutors proved their case.

Peterson and a few other California death-row inmates are appealing on similar grounds.

Peterson was convicted of killing his wife, Laci, who was 8 months pregnant with their son, and dumping her body in San Francisco Bay on Christmas Eve 2002. Investigators think Peterson either strangled or suffocated his wife.

Peterson has always maintained his innocence and claims in his appeal filed earlier this month that the trial judge presiding over his 2004 trial wrongly dismissed 13 jurors who said they opposed the death penalty but could follow the law and impose it if warranted.

In 1984, a narrowly divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that reversal of the death penalty is automatic when potential jurors are dismissed because of their written answers to questions about their views on capital punishment.

MINNESOTA

Drought grows to cover widest area since 1956

MINNEAPOLIS — The drought gripping the U.S. is the widest since 1956, according to new data released Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Fifty-five percent of the continental U.S. was in a moderate to extreme drought by the end of June, NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., said in its monthly State of the Climate drought report. That’s the largest percentage since December 1956, when 58 percent of the country was covered by drought.

This summer, 80 percent of the U.S. is abnormally dry, and the report said the drought expanded in the West, Great Plains and Midwest last month with the 14th-warmest and 10th-driest June on record.

The nation’s corn and soybean belt has been especially hard hit over the past three months, the report said. That region has experienced its seventh-warmest and 10th-driest April-to-June period.

The report is based on a data set going back to 1895 called the Palmer Drought Index, which feeds into the widely watched and more detailed U.S. Drought Monitor. It reported last week that 61 percent of the continental U.S. was in a moderate to exceptional drought.

ILLINOIS

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