ST. LOUIS (AP) — A man convicted of killing an eastern Missouri couple during a 1996 robbery at their home has had his death penalty overturned for a third time.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry, in a ruling Thursday, called the portion of Carman Deck's trial that led to the latest death sentence "fundamentally unfair." The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/2pv6R9t ) reported that she ordered Deck to serve life in prison without parole for the killings of James and Zelma Long of rural De Soto.
"Deck's inability to present mitigation evidence prevented the jury from adequately considering compassionate or mitigating factors that might have warranted mercy," Perry wrote.
A spokeswoman with the Missouri Attorney General's office on Tuesday declined to speculate about an appeal.
Two other death sentences also were overturned, including by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 because he had been shackled in the presence of jurors.
Court records show that Deck, his sister and another man plotted the robbery. Deck and his sister went to the home and when Zelma Long answered the door, Deck asked for directions.
Zelma Long invited them in, and Deck pulled a pistol. He ordered the Longs to lay face-down on their bed and listened to them plea for mercy for about 10 minutes before shooting them.
Deck's original death sentence from 1998 was reversed in 2002 by the Missouri Supreme Court, which found errors by his lawyer.
He was shackled in front of the jury over his lawyer's objections during the second penalty-phase trial in April 2003. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the death sentence in May 2005.
His third penalty-phase trial started in September 2008. Perry determined that "substantial" evidence arguing against the death penalty in Deck's first two penalty phases was unavailable for the third because witnesses had died, couldn't be found or declined to cooperate.
The Longs' daughter, Karen Long, said in an email to the Post-Dispatch that she was frustrated by the ruling.
"Why (do) we even need three juries with the same conclusion each time when a judge can put her two cents in and change what has been in the pipeline for nearly 21 years?" she wrote.
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com