Following the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Summerlin v. Stewart on September 2, 2003, numerous press accounts reported on the effect of the decision holding Ring v. Arizona to be retroactive. Excerpts from a sample of those articles (some of which conflict with one another) follow:


COLORADO: “Clarify death penalty” (source: Editorial, Denver Post)

“The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has overturned the death sentences of more than 100 prisoners in Arizona, Idaho and Montana, further complicating the death-penalty debate.

While the ruling will have no effect in Colorado, it provides new impetus for the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify its 2002 Ring vs. Arizona ruling - which has now been interpreted in 3 differing ways by the 9th, 6th and 11th circuits.

The high court’s 7-2 decision in Ring ended the practice of having a judge, rather than a jury, decide whether there are “aggravating factors” in a case that can justify a death penalty. The court ruled that determining such factors is essentially a finding of fact, a power traditionally left to juries.

Following that ruling, the Colorado Supreme Court last February reduced the death sentences of convicted murderers George Woldt and Francisco Martinez Jr. to life in prison without parole. Both had been tried under a Colorado law that let 3-judge panels, not juries, impose death penalties.


The best thing Colorado could do at this point is to eliminate the death penalty. Failing that, let’s hope lawmakers at least resist future impulses to tinker with the jurisprudence of death.”

MONTANA: “Death penalty should be applied consistently” (source: Editorial, Great Falls Tribune)

“Lovers of justice, regardless of how they feel about the death penalty, should applaud a court ruling this week that raises the bar a notch on ordering America’s harshest punishment.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday set aside all pending executions ordered by judges — as opposed to those ordered by juries — in order to be consistent with an earlier Supreme Court ruling.

The high court ruled last year that only a jury of a defendant’s peers can order the death penalty. However, the justices stopped short of making the ruling retroactive, so the status of existing inmates put on death row by judges was left up in the air.

The 9th Circuit appeals court stepped into the void Tuesday, ruling in an Arizona case that the Supreme Court standard does apply retroactively, at least in the Western states comprising that circuit.

Of those states, only Arizona, Idaho and Montana allow judges to pronounce death sentences. As a result, Tuesday’s ruling appears to have nullified about 120 pending executions — at least 100 in Arizona, 15 in Idaho and 5 in Montana.


Nevertheless, the 2002 Supreme Court ruling aimed to take the death-penalty decision out of the hands of individual judges, placing it instead with the juries.

That’s where the decision should lie, and it shouldn’t matter whether a conviction occurred before or after the 2002 case.”

IDAHO: “Former Death Row Inmate Applauds Federal Court Death Penalty Ruling” (source: KCBI News)

“There are currently 21 active death row cases pending in Idaho. 15 of them are now in the federal court system. 6 of them are still under state review. 5 of those 6 are on post-conviction appeal in state district courts or waiting to be heard by the Idaho Supreme Court. But the Idaho Attorney General’s office believes this 9th circuit court ruling will not stand because 3 other U.S. circuit courts disagree with it according to LaMont Anderson who heads the capitol litigation division of the Idaho Attorney General’s office, “We have been informed that Arizona is going to file a petition asking the United State Supreme court to hear this case. We fully believe the United State’s Supreme Court will hear this case because of the split in the circuits.”

NEVADA: “Juries and the death penalty - Nevada sure to be affected by federal court capital punishment ruling” (source: Editorial, Las Vegas Review-Journal)

“Nevada’s unusual law that allowed judges to determine the fate of certain capital offenders could lead to new sentencing hearings for more than a dozen death row inmates in the Silver State.

On Tuesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out more than 100 death sentences in Arizona, Idaho and Montana because the condemned inmates had been sentenced by judges. The ruling was in response to a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision which held that only juries had the power to impose the death penalty.

If the ruling stands — and it’s certain to be appealed, given that the Supreme Court left up in the air whether its decision should be applied retroactively — it’s hard to imagine the 15 Nevada inmates on death row who were sentenced by 3-judge panels not at least receiving new sentencing hearings.

In fact, the state Supreme Court has already tossed out 1 such conviction in response to the 2002 high court decision.

Nevada’s law — the only of its kind in the country — gave 3-judge panels the power to impose death sentences if the defendant pleaded guilty or a jury deadlocked. It was always controversial — and rightly so. If 12 individual jurors are unable to agree that society should impose the ultimate sanction, a sentence of life without parole should be the default setting.

Allowing a judge or three to make the decision instead of a dozen jurors lessens the high burden the state should have to meet in order to carry out its most awesome power.”

IDAHO: “Lawmakers have chance to review death penalty” (source: Editorial, The Idaho Statesman)

“The path to Idaho’s death chamber has taken another twist.

And that’s good. The state should use this opportunity to declare a death-penalty moratorium. This form of justice allows no margin for error, yet Idaho has come close to making two mistakes in recent years.

On Tuesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the death sentences for 15 convicted killers on Idaho’s death row should be voided. This would apply, retroactively, a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that says juries - and not judges - should determine whether evidence supports the death penalty.”

MONTANA: “McGrath says federal ruling won’t affect Montana’s death row inmates” (source: Associated Press)

“A federal appeals court ruling that could overturn scores of death sentences in some western states should have no effect on Montana’s 5 death-row inmates, Attorney General Mike McGrath said.

He said Tuesday the Justice Department will argue that specific circumstances in each of the Montana cases insulate them from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision.”


MONTANA: “West’s death sentences tossed” (source: Great Falls Tribune)

“[Attorney General] McGrath said Montana changed its death penalty laws this year to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 decision, as applied to future cases.

In Montana, a murder case must contain several “aggravating circumstances” before a defendant can be considered for the death penalty.

Before this year, a state judge in Montana would decide whether any aggravating circumstances existed in the case and then determine the sentence.

Now, the jury decides whether aggravating circumstances exist.”

IDAHO: “15 Idaho inmates off Death Row—-Appeals court gives prisoners reprieve for now” (source for both: Idaho Statesman)

“The ruling could affect 15 people sentenced to die in Idaho - more than 100 in all 3 states - though perhaps not immediately.

The Idaho Attorney General’s Office was still reviewing the federal appeals court’s 90-page ruling Tuesday and had no comment. Lawyers for the state of Arizona, the subject of the federal appeals court ruling, promised to contest the decision and ask the nation’s top court to put the issue to rest.

Ada County Prosecutor Greg Bower, the last Idaho prosecutor to win a death-row conviction, hopes the appeal takes place. The 9th Circuit decision puts in question the sentences of 6 death-row inmates from Ada County, including Darrell Payne, who was sentenced in May 2002 for the murder of Samantha Maher.


In the fall, shortly after the nation’s highest court ruled, the Idaho Supreme Court overturned the sentence of Donald Kenneth Fetterly saying Idaho’s death penalty law wasn’t valid. But only Fetterly’s case was affected by the ruling. In July of this year, the state court ordered Faron Earl Lovelace resentenced because the death penalty was imposed on him under an unconstitutional system.

While 2 other federal circuit courts have ruled the opposite, the judges of the 9th Circuit said it is clear the U.S. Supreme Court´s ruling applies to all death row inmates.


Cases under federal review affected

Of the 21 convicted killers on Idaho’s death row, state officials say 15 of them had their death sentences overturned Tuesday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling immediately affected condemned inmates with their cases under federal court review.

Three other Idaho death row inmates still have their cases in the state appellate system. The final 3 murderers were once under death sentences but are awaiting resentencing. Executions voided:

  • David Leslie Card, 43, of Nampa. Convicted for the June 5, 1988, shooting deaths of Eugene and Shirley Morey.
  • Thomas Eugene Creech, 52, of Ohio. Convicted killer, whose 1st death sentence led to overturning Idaho´s original death penalty law in the mid-1970s, pleaded guilty to the May 13, 1981, killing of a fellow prison inmate.
  • Zane Jack Fields, 45, of Idaho Falls. Convicted of 1st-degree murder for the Feb. 11, 1988, stabbing death of Mary Catherine Vanderford.
  • James Harvey Hairston, 27, of Grand Junction, Colo. Convicted of 1st-degree murder for the Jan. 6, 1996, shooting deaths of William and Dalma Fuhriman.
  • Maxwell Alton Hoffman, 46, of Nampa. Convicted for the slaying of Denise Williams.
  • Mark Henry Lankford, 47, of Conroe, Texas. Convicted of the June 1983 beating deaths of U.S. Marine Capt. Robert Bravence and his wife, Cheryl.
  • Richard Albert Leavitt, 44, of Blackfoot. Convicted for the July 18, 1984, death of Danette Jean Elg.
  • Randall Lynn McKinney, 41, of Tulare, Calif. Convicted in the April 1981 shooting death of Robert Bishop Jr.
  • Gerald Ross Pizzuto, Jr., 47, of Orland, Calif. Convicted for the July 1985 beating deaths of Berta Herndon and Del Dean Herndon.
  • George Junior Porter, 46, of Nezperce. Convicted for the December 1988 beating death of Theresa Lynn Jones.
  • Paul Ezra Rhoades, 46, of Idaho Falls. Convicted of the murders of Susan Michelbacher and Stacy Dawn Baldwin.
  • Robin Lee Row, 45, of Boise. Convicted for the February 1992 murders of her husband Randy, and children, Joshua Cornellier and Tabitha Cornellier.
  • Lacey Mark Sivak, 44, of Boise. Convicted in the April 1981 shooting-stabbing of Dixie Wilson.
  • Gene Francis Stuart, 52, of Orofino. Convicted in the September 1981 beating death of 3-year-old Robert Miller.
  • James Edward Wood, 55, of Pensacola, Fla. Pleaded guilty to the July 30, 1993, murder of 11-year-old Jeralee Underwood. Under state review
  • Michael Allen Jauhola, 30, was convicted by a jury for the April 16, 1998, beating death of fellow prison inmate John Alfred Williams.
  • Darrell Edward Payne, 36, of Nampa. Convicted of the July 6, 2000, abduction, robbery, rape and murder of Samantha Maher.
  • Dale Carter Shackelford, 41, of Ironton, Mo. Convicted for the 1999 slayings of Donna Fontaine and Fred Palahniuk. Awaiting resentencing
  • Timothy Alan Dunlap, 35, of Sellersburg, Ind. Pleaded guilty to the Oct. 16, 1991, shotgun slaying of Tonya Crane.
  • Faron Earl Lovelace, 46, of Sandpoint. He was convicted for the 1995 execution-style murder of Jeremy Scott.
  • Jimmie Vurel Thomas, 60, of Littlefield, Texas. Convicted of 1st-degree murder for the Nov. 14, 1997, shooting death of Steven Louder.”

NEVADA: “13 Nevada death row inmates could receive new sentences” (source: Associated Press)

“13 inmates on Nevada’s death row could be resentenced under a federal appeal’s court ruling.

Last year, the U.S Supreme Court ruled only juries - not judges - can impose a death sentence.

On Tuesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco determined the ruling is retroactive.

“By my count, there are 13 people on death row whose death sentences may be affected by the 9th Circuit’s ruling if it’s not overturned,” Deputy Nevada Attorney General David Neidert, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Nevada’s 13 inmates, three from Washoe County and 10 from Clark County, were sentenced to death by 3-judge panels after the defendants either pleaded guilty or a jury deadlocked while deciding their sentence.

Neidert said in some cases, new juries may need to be seated.

Nevada’s system was slightly different.

Until this year in Nevada, a 3-judge panel ruled on death penalty cases for guilty pleas or hung juries. Lawmakers passed legislation this year eliminating the 3-judge panel and requiring juries in all capital cases.”

NEBRASKA: “Federal court’s decision could empty Nebraska’s death row” (source: The Independent)

“A federal court’s ruling overturning the death sentences of more than 100 condemned prisoners eventually could empty out death row in Nebraska.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling Tuesday directly affected death row inmates in Arizona, Idaho and Montana.

But death penalty opponents hoped it might be extended to Nebraska and Colorado, 2 states that have had similar laws but under different jurisdiction.

The federal appeals court said that a U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer can be applied retroactively. The high court decision said only juries, not judges alone, can decide whether a defendant is eligible for death.

Gov. Mike Johanns called Nebraska lawmakers into a special session in November in response to the Supreme Court ruling, and the Legislature passed a law conforming to the high court decision.”

Click Here to visit DPIC’s page on Ring v. Arizona