High Court to Say If Jurors Must Be Told of `Three-Strikes' Status

The Supreme Court agreed Friday to decide whether a Virginia murderer's death sentence was illegal because the man was barred from telling jurors he would be ineligible for parole if sentenced to life in prison.

The justices will use Bobby Lee Ramdass' case to clarify their 1994 decision that said capital-case defendants sometimes must be allowed to tell sentencing juries that a life sentence would carry no chance of parole.

A decision is expected by late June.

During a weeklong crime spree in 1992, Ramdass robbed two pizza restaurants and a convenience store in Fairfax County, Va. During one episode, he killed convenience store clerk Mohammed Kayani.

In separate trials, juries found him guilty of all three crimes. He was sentenced to death for the murder after a state court jury found that he constituted "a continuing threat to society."

After all appeals were rejected in state courts, Ramdass sought help in federal court. He argued that he wrongly was barred from telling the sentencing jurors about his ineligibility for parole under Virginia's three-strikes law.

The Virginia Supreme Court had ruled that the three-strikes law did not apply to Ramdass when he was sentenced for the murder. He had been found guilty by juries of three separate crimes, but one judge had not yet entered a judgment of guilt.

A federal trial judge ruled that Ramdass was entitled to a new sentencing trial, but a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out that decision.

The panel said federal courts are bound by state courts' characterization of the relevant state laws.

The case is Ramdass vs. Angelone, 99-7000.