WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court on Monday moved to reinstate the death penalty for a California man convicted of murdering a 19-year-old woman during a burglary.
Justices reversed an appeals court ruling that threw out Fernando Belmontes' death sentence because the trial judge misled jurors who were considering whether to give Belmontes the death penalty or life in prison. The 5-4 decision was the court's first since starting its new term in October.
Justice Anthony Kennedy said it was implausible to conclude that jurors failed to take all the evidence into account before settling on a sentence of death.
Belmontes beat 19-year-old Steacy McConnell to death with a dumbbell bar in the burglary of her Victor, Calif., home in 1981. He was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death, a decision upheld by state courts and a federal judge.
The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, however, twice commuted the sentence. The second time was after the Supreme Court told it to reconsider Belmontes' sentence under a decision that restored the death penalty in another California murder case.
The appeals court said the trial judge misled jurors about whether they could consider the prospect that Belmontes could live a productive life behind bars based on his good behavior during an earlier commitment to a California correctional facility for youth.