WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court agreed Monday to use a Tennessee killer's death sentence to look at the way capital punishment is applied, and whether to allow more appeals in questionable cases.
Justices had blocked Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman's execution earlier this month and will now decide whether he can pursue appeals on new developments in his case.
Other courts had ruled that it was too late for him to pursue his allegations that the state didn't turn over evidence as it should have, made misleading statements and improperly prepared witnesses.
Justices will decide if it was fair to stop his appeals.
The man said he killed an alleged drug dealer to stop narcotics dealing to children.
His case brought the court back to a subject that has troubled some of the justices, whether poor accused killers are being adequately represented.
At the heart of the case is whether inmates who discover new evidence can pursue appeals.
One of Abdur'Rahman's new lawyers, Tom Goldstein, said the outcome will determine whether new developments can be brought to federal court.
"We hopefully will finally have the chance to establish there was grave misconduct by the prosecutor in this case. We've never had our day in court and hopefully we'll now get it," Goldstein said.
One of Abdur'Rahman's government-provided trial lawyers said a defense strategy was never planned for the trial or for sentencing phase. It was the attorney's first capital case.
His lawyers relied on information they received from prosecutors that blood was found on Abdur'Rahman's clothing. The spots were paint.
Two jurors have said they would not have sentenced him to death had they known about his history of sexual and physical abuse and mental problems.
The Supreme Court is already reviewing several death row cases with major constitutional questions. They will decide before July whether states can execute the mentally retarded and whether it is constitutional for a judge, not a jury, to decide a death sentence. They will also say when convicted killers can bring up ineffective counsel claims.
The latest case, which will be heard in the court's term which begins next fall, illustrates the court's intensifying interest in capital cases.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has said minimum standards may be needed for capital lawyers. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said among all the inmates who have asked the court for last-minute reprieves, she has never seen one who got really good legal help at trial.
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