- Associated Press - Friday, April 11, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A faulty jury instruction was won a Canton man a new trial for the 2010 death of his estranged wife.

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled Thursday the Madison County trial judge erred in his instructions to Joseph Reith’s jury. The court says the instruction to the jury - as it was worded - removed prosecutors’ burden of proving Reith’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt

Reith was sentenced to life in prison in 2011 for the stabbing death of Tammy Reith.

Prosecutors said Reith lured Tammy Reith to an apartment in Canton on March 23, 2010, saying she could play with their son. Instead, he killed her. Their son was not at the apartment.

Prosecutors said Tammy Reith died of multiple stab wounds. They said an argument about custody of their son led to the slaying.

Reith was charged with deliberate design murder, which connotes an intention to kill.

Justice Michael Randolph, writing for the court, said Reith did not deny that he killed his ex-wife with a dangerous weapon.

However, Randolph said the trial judge “told the jury that it could assume Reith intended to kill her, thus relieving the state of its burden to prove Reith’s guilt on an essential element of the crime.” He said the instruction freed the jury convict Reith “based upon a presumption as opposed to evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Randolph said the instruction should not have been given.

Randolph said a jury “may never be instructed that it may presume deliberate design from the unlawful and deliberate use of a deadly weapon.”



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