- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2002


The Supreme Court yesterday added another death penalty case and a mob murder conviction to its calendar for the coming term, continuing its review of the way the death penalty is carried out.

The court now has four death-row cases to consider when it opens its term next week. All focus on the mechanics of imposing the death penalty, not major constitutional issues.

The justices, in announcing cases that probably will be heard early in 2003, dodged one that asked whether it was unconstitutional to put to death juvenile killers. Three justices said over the summer they wanted the court to review that subject.

The term promises to be less dramatic than last year's, when justices declared it unconstitutional to execute mentally retarded murderers and said that juries not judges must decide issues affecting sentences in capital cases.

"Now the fights are on the margins, not at the heart of the death penalty," said Thomas Goldstein, who represents a death-row inmate whose separate case will be heard by the court next month.

In the death penalty case chosen yesterday, justices said they will consider whether a convicted California killer and potentially many more defendants in Western states falls under a 1996 law that limits appeals. Robert Garceau had filed some paperwork before the 1996 law took effect, and a federal appeals court said he was exempt from it.

The high court also will look at whether Garceau's constitutional rights were violated when prosecutors told jurors that he killed an accomplice and dealt drugs. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that Garceau's "trial and conviction were infected with constitutional error."

Garceau was convicted of stabbing to death his girlfriend and her 14-year-old son in 1984, stuffing their bodies into a dresser and burying it in the back yard of one of his drug-dealing partners.

That partner was later murdered, but Garceau was not convicted in the death.

The appeals court said jurors should not have been told that Garceau was responsible for the third death. Garceau did not object at the trial, and California contended that any error did not affect the outcome of the trial.

Separately, the court agreed to reconsider rules for defendants in federal court who wanted to claim that their original attorneys performed poorly. The case probably will affect death-row prisoners, who typically begin a round of federal court appeals once their direct appeals are exhausted in state or federal criminal courts.

The court agreed to hear an appeal from Joseph Massaro, whom prosecutors described as a "soldier" in the Luchese organized crime family who controlled an extortion ring involving Long Island topless bars, gambling and loan-sharking.

Massaro was sentenced to life in prison for the 1990 killing of a mob partner in a dispute over gambling profits. Prosecutors introduced a bullet as evidence three days into the trial. Although the judge offered to delay the trial while the defense investigated, Massaro's defense attorney rejected that offer, his Supreme Court appeal said.

On appeal, a different attorney unsuccessfully claimed that the trial judge should not have allowed the bullet into evidence.

In another case yesterday, the Supreme Court said it will consider whether thousands of small businesses are bound by the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal job-discrimination statutes.

The justices will hear an appeal by an Oregon medical clinic that says it is exempt from the disabilities law because it has fewer than 15 employees.

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