WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday threw out a death sentence for a decorated Korean War veteran, ruling for the first time that combat stress must be considered by a jury before it hands down the harshest punishment.
“Our nation has a long tradition of according leniency to veterans in recognition of their service, especially for those who fought on the front lines as (George) Porter did,” the justices said in a unanimous, unsigned opinion. “The relevance of Porter’s extensive combat experience is not only that he served honorably … but also that the jury might find mitigating the intense stress and mental and emotional toll that combat took.”
Porter was convicted in the 1986 shooting deaths of his ex-girlfriend and her then-boyfriend in Florida during a drunken rage. But the jury that sentenced him to die was never told – and his appointed lawyer did not know – of his military service more than three decades earlier.
Monday’s decision appears to be the first in which the court has said post-traumatic stress disorder was the type of circumstance that called for leniency. It comes as thousands of U.S. soldiers are being treated for PTSD suffered as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Both the Florida Supreme Court and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta had upheld Porter’s death sentence, despite his overlooked military record. But the high court said those decisions were mistaken.