- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) - The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a district judge’s reversal of a death sentence in the 1981 murder of a baby in San Bernardino County because of an error in instructing the jury about so-called special circumstances that enable capital punishment.

In August 1982, a jury convicted Brett Pensinger of two counts of kidnapping and one count of first-degree murder in the death of 5-month-old Michelle Melander, whose mutilated body was found a year earlier. The jury also found true special circumstances of murder committed in the course of a kidnapping and murder with intent to torture the victim.

Tuesday’s complex ruling involving an omitted jury instruction doesn’t affect the convictions.

Pensinger abducted Michelle and her brother after drinking with their parents in a Parker, Arizona, bar.

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