Supreme Court says jurors were misled in Arizona death row case

The case is important not only for John Montenegro Cruz, but also for other death row inmates in Arizona who are in the same situation.

WASHINGTON DC, DC – An attorney for a man on death row in Arizona told the United States Supreme Court on Tuesday that jurors in the case were wrongly told that the only way to ensure the man would never be free was to condemn him to death.

The man, John Montenegro Cruz, argued the jury should have been told he would not be eligible for parole if he was spared death. Cruz says Arizona challenged the Supreme Court on the issue.

Cruz’s attorney, Neal Katyal, said efforts to tell the jury that Cruz was ineligible for parole were rejected. Arizona says Cruz did not make the specific requests he needed under Supreme Court precedent.

At least one juror said that if she had known that a “life sentence without parole” was an alternative to death, she “would have voted for that option”.

The case is important not only for Cruz, but also for other death row inmates in Arizona who are in the same situation.

Cruz was convicted of the 2003 murder of Tucson policeman Patrick Hardesty. Hardesty and another officer were investigating a hit-and-run accident that led them to Cruz, who attempted to flee and shot Hardesty five times.

A 1994 Supreme Court case, Simmons v. South Carolina, says that in some death penalty cases, jurors must be told that choosing a life sentence means life without the possibility of parole. This is necessary when prosecutors claim that the accused will pose a threat to society in the future.

In a 2016 case, Lynch vs. Arizona, the Supreme Court told Arizona directly that it had to comply with Simmons. But Cruz says Arizona continued to challenge the high court.

“Looks like you’re thumbing your nose at us,” Judge Elena Kagan told attorney Joseph Kanefield, who argued for Arizona.

The case is not necessarily one that will split the court between its six conservative justices and its three liberal justices.

In addition to Kagan, the court’s other two liberal justices, Judge Sonia Sotomayor and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, have suggested Cruz get a new sanction phase of his trial where it’s clear to jurors that he doesn’t. is not eligible for parole unless sentenced to death.

But conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett also at one point suggested sympathy for Cruz’s view, saying Arizona’s argument “just feels like a hair parting.” Judges Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch suggested they would vote for the state.

The case is John Montenegro Cruz v. State of Arizona, 21-846.

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