A Nevada inmate who was convicted of the 1980 robbery-killing of a man for $2 is no longer eligible for the death penalty.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the state's Supreme Court ruled that due to the erasure of Samuel Howard's sole conviction for violent crime by a New York court, he would no longer face capital punishment.
After spending nearly 40 years on death row, following the fatal shooting of Las Vegas dentist George Monahan during a robbery, it has been reported that Howard must now be re-sentenced.
According to a unanimous decision made by the Nevada high court, the vacating of that past conviction removes the criteria required to seek the death penalty.
However, prosecutors argued that capital punishment should be upheld based on evidence that showed Howard committed a violent felony in New York.
Upon making his decision, Justice Douglas Herndon refuted the prosecution's claims.
"That evidence does not, however, satisfy the statute's plain language, which requires a 'conviction' and not merely the commission of a crime," Herndon explained.
"Given that the statute clearly requires a conviction, we cannot salvage the aggravating circumstance based on the other evidence the State presented at the penalty hearing."
In a new hearing, a jury will now decide between a sentence of life in prison, with or without the possibility of parole.
"Because the only aggravating circumstance supporting Howard's death sentence is no longer valid, he is ineligible for the death penalty," Herndon wrote.
"This, Howard demonstrated that he is actually innocent of the death penalty, establishing a fundamental miscarriage of justice to overcome the procedural bars to his untimely and successive petition."
Those who are against the death penalty have voiced their support for the ruling.
Scott Coffee, a public defender and member of the Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty's board, said: "This is big. If you want to see the future of capital punishment and capital punishment litigation, you'd probably do well to look at this.
"We've never got this right, and I don't think it's possible to get this right."
The last inmate to be executed in Nevada was in 2006 when Daryl Mack was sentenced to death for the 1988 murder of Betty Jane May.
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