- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004


The Supreme Court yesterday threw out the death sentence of a convicted Texas killer because jurors in his trial did not consider his learning disability and other evidence.

Texas courts had turned down LaRoyce Lathair Smith’s appeal of his sentence for the January 1991 killing of a Taco Bell manager during a robbery attempt in Dallas. The victim, 19-year-old Jennifer Soto, was pistol-whipped, shot and stabbed with a butcher knife.

In the ruling, justices cited the decision they made five months ago in the case of Texas death row inmate Robert Tennard. That ruling opened the door to new challenges from several dozen condemned men in the state who said they have low IQs and were not given enough chance to present mitigating evidence to a jury.

“There is no question that a jury might well have considered [Smith’s] IQ scores and history of participation in special-education classes as a reason to impose a sentence more lenient than death,” the court wrote in yesterday’s decision.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the most conservative justices, disagreed.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist had joined Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas in opposing the outcome of the earlier Texas case. Chief Justice Rehnquist, who has been away from the court since last month while receiving chemotherapy and radiation for thyroid cancer, supported the latest decision, though no explanation was provided.

In another ruling, the Supreme Court turned down an appeal from supporters of cockfighting in Oklahoma, who have lost at the ballot box and in courts.

Oklahoma voters in 2002 approved a ban on the blood sport, in which knives or cutting barbs are attached to the birds, which usually fight to the death.

The justices also refused to consider whether a Colorado couple must return their adopted son to his Missouri mother.

Justices let stand a Colorado Supreme Court ruling in favor of the adoptive parents, who are identified in filings as G.A.L. and K.L. to protect their privacy. The Denver couple argued they should retain custody of 1-year-old Alex because a judge had not taken into consideration his “best interests.”

The mother, identified as C.M.C., disagreed, noting that a Missouri judge had ordered Alex returned after she changed her mind about the adoption.

The Supreme Court also:

• Declined to consider whether retailer Kmart Corp. should have paid more than $300 million to key suppliers immediately after declaring bankruptcy.

• Declined to resurrect a lawsuit that accuses two German companies of assisting in the massacre of thousands of people in Namibia a century ago.

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