- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 28, 2005


The Supreme Court said yesterday it would consider the appeal of a Tennessee death row inmate, who asserts that new DNA evidence may vindicate him, in a case that will decide when people should get a fresh chance to prove their innocence.

The court’s decision keeps Tennessee from executing Paul House while his case is reviewed, and gives hope to other inmates who are seeking new trials.

The high court also said it would again intervene in a long-running fight over protests outside abortion clinics.

Justices said they will consider whether a pro-life group’s campaign against abortions, conducted outside these clinics 20 years ago, may have violated federal racketeering and extortion laws.

The court already has dealt with the issue several times. Most recently, justices ruled in 2003 that the laws were wrongly used against pro-life leader Joseph Scheidler and others.

That ruling, written by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, lifted a nationwide ban on protests that interfere with abortion clinic business.

An appeals court, however, questioned whether the ban should be renewed on other legal grounds.

In the DNA case, House, a convicted sex offender, was accused of sexually assaulting and killing a neighbor in 1985. He was convicted of Carolyn Muncey’s murder, but later DNA tests, which were not widely available at the time, revealed that semen on Mrs. Muncey’s underwear and nightgown came from her husband.

House is trying to win a new trial. Last fall the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati split 8-7 in denying House’s request. Justices will review that decision.

“This will be the first time the Supreme Court considers the impact of DNA evidence on the constitutional right to a fair trial,” said Nina Morrison, an attorney with the Innocence Project in New York. “The potential implications are significant.”

Miss Morrison said that her project is handling about 100 cases involving prisoners who want a chance to prove their innocence.

Jennifer Smith, an associate deputy attorney general in Tennessee, argued there is not enough evidence to reopen the House case.

The Supreme Court usually handles several death penalty cases a year. Already, justices are hearing arguments this fall in a case that asks whether someone convicted of murder can offer evidence at sentencing that casts doubt about culpability.

The court’s announcement yesterday came as justices resolved about 20 cases that were still pending from their term. The court met for the last time Monday before beginning a three-month break.

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