The Supreme Court will let lower courts consider reinstating a death sentence for a convicted murderer who twice escaped from prison after being found guilty of killing a man who was planning to testify against him.
The high court on Tuesday overturned a lower court decision throwing out the death sentence against Joseph Kindler for killing one-time accomplice David Bernstein in 1982.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had said Kindler's lawyer was ineffective at the sentencing phase of his trial and also found problems with the instructions given to the jury.
State courts had never decided on Kindler's claims. Instead, those courts said Kindler forfeited the right to be heard on those issues because of his escapes.
Chief Justice John Roberts said the state court decision has to be taken into consideration by the federal courts. "We hold that a discretionary state procedural rule can serve as an adequate ground to bar federal habeas review," Roberts said.
Bernstein agreed to testify against Kindler about their roles in robbing a store. Kindler beat Bernstein with a baseball bat and an accomplice jabbed him with an electric prod. The two men dumped Bernstein in the Delaware River, but after discovering he was still alive, they managed to fill his lungs with water and tied a cinder block around his neck.
Kindler twice escaped to Canada.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a separate opinion, said he agreed with the state court's decision that Kindler's escapes forfeited his right to be heard on his appeals. "There is no justification for an unlawful escape, which 'operates as an affront to the dignity of (a) court's proceedings,'" Kennedy said.
Justice Samuel Alito, who used to sit on the Philadelphia-based appeals court, did not take part in the consideration or decision in this case.
The case is Beard v. Kindler, 08-992.