Justices affirm military death penalty, toss 2 death row appeals

October 3, 2016

The Supreme Court of the United States won't hear a challenge to the death penalty for members of the military, and justices also turned away appeals from prisoners on death row in Texas and Virginia on Monday.

The justices rejected an appeal from the former soldier who was sentenced to death for killing two fellow soldiers and injuring 14 others in an attack in Kuwait in 2003. The appeal from Hasan Akbar focused on whether the way in which the armed forces impose a death sentence complies with recent Supreme Court rulings.

Akbar is being held at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He was convicted of killing Army Capt. Christopher S. Seifert and Air Force Maj. Gregory L. Stone in Kuwait during the early days of the Iraq war.

The military hasn't carried out an execution since 1961.

The court also won't review the case of a Virginia death row inmate convicted of hiring a man to kill his ex-girlfriend.

Justices declined to take up an appeal from Ivan Teleguz, who claims he should get another chance to show that his defense lawyers were inadequate during his 2006 trial.

Teleguz was sentenced to death in 2006 in the murder-for-hire scheme targeting his former girlfriend, Stephanie Sipe, in Harrisonburg. Since then, two key prosecution witnesses have recanted their testimony.

A federal judge refused to overturn Teleguz's conviction after a new hearing and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

Teleguz was set to be executed on April 13. But the appeals court temporarily halted his execution in March while the Supreme Court considered his case.

Likewise, the high court will not allow additional DNA testing of evidence a death row inmate in Texas says could show he didn't kill a suburban Houston college student. The justices rejected an appeal from Larry Swearingen, who was convicted of abducting, raping and killing 19-year-old Melissa Trotter in 1998.

Swearingen has sought to test fingernail scrapings from Trotter, items of her clothing and cigarette butts found near her body. The trial court in his case has twice ordered the testing, but was reversed by the state Court of Criminal Appeals on both occasions.


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