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Murderer’s sentence tossed out by judge

Associated Press

MOSCOW, Idaho – A judge has spared a man sentenced to death in 2001 for killing his ex-wife and her boyfriend.

Latah County District Court Judge John Stegner threw out death sentences on Friday against Dale Carter Shackelford – the same judge who sentenced him to die for killing Donna Fontaine and her boyfriend, Fred Palahniuk, and then burning the bodies six years ago.

Stegner ruled Friday that the penalty was unconstitutional because it violated a 2003 law dictating death sentences be imposed by a jury, not judges.

Defense attorneys Mark Ackley and Kimberly Simmons filed a petition for post-conviction relief claiming several violations of Shackelford’s rights.

Stegner dismissed claims the defendant’s right to confront witnesses was violated. He also threw out claims the jury was not instructed well enough to make the decision of guilt and that Latah County lacked jurisdiction to try Shackelford.

Stegner’s ruling, in effect, leaves Shackelford without a sentence.

He could be granted a new sentencing hearing, or higher courts could choose to reinstate the death penalty, said Latah County Prosecuting Attorney William Thompson Jr.

“I think it is too early to say, at this point, what will happen,” he said.

If Thompson continues to seek the death penalty, Stegner said, a jury would have to be assembled to weigh aggravating and mitigating circumstances in connection with the murders.

Stegner said he may file to assemble the original jury that found Shackelford guilty of the murders near Kendrick, Idaho.

He said a new panel might lack necessary background on the case.

Meanwhile the state Court of Appeals may review Shackelford’s sentence, Thompson said.

“It is still subject for review,” he said.

“This is just the first step in a long process.”

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