WASHINGTON – Pennsylvania lost a Supreme Court appeal on Tuesday that sought to put a convicted killer back on death row.
The state wanted justices to overturn a ruling by the court's new member, Samuel Alito.
Alito had handled Antuan Bronshtein's case at the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, writing a ruling last year that gave the Russian immigrant a chance to spare his life.
Alito was elevated from the appeals court to the high court late last month, replacing Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. He did not participate in Monday's decision to reject Pennsylvania's appeal.
Bronshtein, who emigrated to the United States from Russia as a child, was convicted in the 1991 deaths of two Philadelphia-area jewelers. He claimed the victims were slain by a member of the Russian mafia known as Mr. X. He received the death sentence for one of the murders, that of store owner Alexander Gutmann, who was shot in the face and robbed of $60,000 worth of jewelry.
At issue in the case was a missed deadline.
Bruce Castor Jr., a district attorney in Norristown, Pa., said that for the past decade the state has had a one-year deadline for appeals that "has been strictly applied, exactly as written, in both capital and non-capital cases."
Alito, writing for a three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit, said that the deadline was not consistently enforced in death penalty cases. Alito's decision upheld Bronshtein's conviction but said he was entitled to a new sentencing hearing.
A pro-death penalty group, the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said in a brief that Alito's opinion was disturbing because of "its cavalier treatment of the Pennsylvania statute."
"The considered policy decision of the elected representatives of the people of Pennsylvania is entitled to more respect," the group said in the brief that was filed last fall on the same day that Alito was named to the Supreme Court.
The case is Horn v. Bronshtein, 05-346.