Appeals court refuses to reinstate death sentences of Oklahoma men

Wednesday, August 13th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DENVER (AP) _ A federal appeals court has refused to reinstate death sentences given to two Oklahoma men convicted of beating and stabbing a man to death in 1990.

A U.S. district court had overturned the death sentences for Brian Spears and Dudley Allen Powell, convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Jimmy DeWayne Thompson in Pauls Valley, Okla.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld the district court's ruling, saying the use of gruesome photos of Thompson's body during the penalty stage of the trial was ``fundamentally unfair'' to Spears and Powell.

Prosecutors had argued the photos were relevant because they showed the slaying was heinous and cruel, findings that made Spears and Powell eligible for the death penalty.

The appeals court said the photos were misleading to the jury because most of the wounds were inflicted after Thompson was dead.

Both the district court and the appeals court refused to overturn Spears and Powell's convictions.

Under Oklahoma law, a factor for jurors to use in deciding if the death penalty is justified is whether the conditions of a murder were heinous, atrocious or cruel. That factor focuses on suffering of a conscious victim.

``Having viewed the photographs and reviewed the entire (lower court) record, we agree with (U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange in Oklahoma City) that the introduction into evidence of the photographs ... rendered the (penalty phase) fundamentally unfair,'' the judges wrote.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson's staff was reviewing the ruling before deciding whether to take action, a spokesman said.