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Thursday Mar. 21, 2002



Two lawyers strangled in Mexico

Associated Press

A lawyer who disappeared last week was found dead, the second attorney to be strangled and tortured this month in the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, the state attorney general's office said in a statement.

Juan Francisco Perez disappeared on Feb. 14, and his body was located Tuesday along a highway near Elota, 530 miles (850 kms) northwest of Mexico City. He had been strangled and had signs of torture, including burns, all over his body, officials said.

Prosecutors said a second lawyer, Guillermo Cardos, had been killed earlier this month in a similar manner. He disappeared Feb. 5 and his body was found the next day in the same place as Perez's body.

Officials had no suspects or motive in the case.

Although Cardos worked for a law firm that sometimes represented cases related to drug smuggling, Perez worked for the seafood industry.


Supreme Court asked to stop executions of mentally retarded

Associated Press

The Supreme Court was urged yesterday to keep mentally retarded killers off state death rows by declaring those executions unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

The case turns on whether the public's attitudes about those executions have changed since 1989, when the court upheld them by a 5-4 vote. Since then, the number of states banning executions of the mentally retarded has increased from two to 18.

Justices are reviewing the death sentence of Daryl Renard Atkins, convicted of carjacking and killing an airman in Virginia to get money for beer. One test showed Atkins had an IQ of 59. People who test 70 or below generally are considered mentally retarded.

If the court overturns his sentence, other death row inmates with mental retardation claims could pursue appeals.

The question that most interested the court during yesterday's arguments was whether there is now a national consensus that those executions are cruel.

"We have to be very careful about finding a new consensus. We can't go back," Justice Antonin Scalia said.

James Ellis, representing Atkins, said there is a growing concern that mentally retarded defendants might be more likely to face the death penalty.

Virginia's Legislature debated a ban, but decided to await the outcome of this case.

Pamela A. Rumpz, an assistant attorney general in Virginia, said many of the state bans are relatively new.

"That's a blip in the radar screen of public opinion," she said. "It may change in two years. It may change in three years."


Arizona Supreme Court orders release of inmate sentenced in 1990

Associated Press

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that a man sentenced to life in prison in 1990 is entitled to get out of prison immediately because of a paperwork problem involving former Gov. Fife Symington.

The Supreme Court's 4-0 ruling issued late Tuesday said Melvin Thomas is entitled to be released under a 1994 law because Symington failed to act as required to deny a commutation recommended by the state Board of Executive Clemency.

A Symington aide reportedly signed the denial on Symington's behalf but the paper does not identify the aide and the signature is not legible. The Supreme Court said the denial also was an official act that Symington failed to properly submit to the secretary of state.

State officials say Symington denied recommended commutations to at least 150 prisoners under the 1994 law and that it was not immediately clear how the new court ruling would affect them.

Bartels was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for 25 years after being convicted of aggravated assault. The life term was mandatory under state law at the time because he committed the crime while on probation for drug and property offenses.



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