Court rejects Ala. appeal in murder-for-hire case

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from Alabama to reinstate the death sentence for a man convicted of a $100 murder-for-hire more than 20 years ago.

The court on Monday left in place a federal appeals court ruling that set aside the death sentence for James Charles Lawhorn because of his lawyer's poor work in the penalty portion of the case.

Three justices — Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — said they would have reversed the ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The appeals court upheld Lawhorn's conviction for killing William Clarence Berry in 1988. Berry was the boyfriend of Lawhorn's aunt, who said she wanted Berry dead because she was scared of him.

Earlier, a federal judge overturned Lawhorn's conviction, ruling that his confession had been obtained improperly.

The case is Allen v. Lawhorn, 10-24.