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Top court: Death row cases must be revisited

BOISE – The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered the Idaho Supreme Court to give further consideration to five death row cases.

The orders came Monday after the nation’s highest court said in a separate case that states may apply its rulings to old cases.

The Idaho Supreme Court is now expected to consider whether to retroactively apply a law that says juries, not judges, must determine whether a defendant is eligible for the death penalty to the cases of death row inmates Paul Ezra Rhoades, Randall Lynn McKinney, Gerald Ross Pizzuto, David Leslie Card and James Harvey Hairston. The U.S. Supreme Court considered those cases because the defendants all had petitions pending before it on other matters when it made the retroactivity ruling.

The orders from the high court don’t mean that the state courts committed any sort of error in the five cases, said Idaho Deputy Attorney General LaMont Anderson. They simply mean the state court has to consider the possibility of making the jury death sentencing provision retroactive.

Idaho’s Legislature hasn’t created any kind of retroactivity rule, so it simply uses the federal rule, Anderson said. The U.S. Supreme Court has already said that the federal government can’t apply the jury death sentencing rule retroactively, and the recent ruling doesn’t mean that states have to retroactively apply the rule, just that they can if they choose to.

If the Idaho Supreme Court asks for arguments in the matter, Anderson said the state will contend that because the state already uses the federal retroactivity rule, it would be inappropriate to go beyond that now.

Card, a former janitor, was convicted for the 1988 murders of Eugene and Shirley Morey, who were shot to death while they sat in their car at a Nampa convenience store, folding papers for delivery.

Hairston was convicted in 1996 for the shooting deaths of William “Duke” and Dalma Fuhriman at their rural Downey farmhouse during a robbery.

McKinney was sentenced to die for the 1981 shooting death of Pocatello resident Robert Bishop Jr. Bishop’s body was found abandoned in a gravel pit northeast of Arco.

Pizzuto was sent to death row in 1986 for the beating deaths of Berta Herndon and her nephew Del Dean Herndon while they were prospecting in Ruby Meadows, about 26 miles north of McCall.

And Rhoades was given two death sentences in 1988 for the murder of Idaho Falls teacher Susan Michelbacher, who was shot multiple times and raped. Just two months later Rhoades received two more death sentences for first-degree murder and kidnapping in the shooting death of Stacy Dawn Baldwin, a Blackfoot convenience store clerk. He was also sentenced to life without possibility of parole in the 1987 shooting in Idaho Falls of convenience store clerk Nolan Haddon.

 

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