JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Missouri Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday that a former deputy and correctional officer on death row for a double killing should receive a new sentencing.
Judges wrote that prosecutors violated Marvin Rice’s right against self-incrimination by drawing the jury’s attention to the fact that he didn’t testify while on trial for killing his ex-girlfriend in a child custody dispute in 2011.
During closing arguments in the penalty phase of Rice’s trial, prosecutors “referenced Rice’s silence and focused on what Rice did not say,” the ruling states.
“This was an impermissible comment about Rice’s decision not to testify and a violation of his right against self-incrimination,” judges wrote.
Rice’s public defender and the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, which argued in favor of Rice’s convictions and sentencings, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday from The Associated Press.
Rice was convicted of the slaying of Annette Durham and her boyfriend, Steven Strotkamp. A judge in 2017 sentenced Rice to death in for Durham’s killing. He was sentenced to life in prison for Strotkamp’s death.
Supreme Court judges also on Tuesday ruled that Rice should get a new trial in the killing of Strotkamp.
They wrote that the lower court erred by not allowing Rice to submit instructions on the lesser offenses of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter to the jury in that case.
Supreme Court judges did not rule on public defender Craig Johnston’s argument that Rice was unconstitutionally sentenced to death by a judge and not a jury and therefore should get life in prison instead of execution.
While a jury convicted Rice of first-degree murder for Durham’s death, it couldn’t decide whether he should be put to death. Because of an unusual Missouri law, that left the decision up to the judge.
Opponents of the death penalty have used Rice’s case to push to change Missouri law to take away the capital punishment option if juries can’t agree.
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