High court ruling has local effect – Two on death row will spend life in prison

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 9, 2005

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted a reprieve to a couple of death row inmates from Shelby County who were convicted of two of the most gruesome murders in the county’s history.

The court’s controversial decision was made last week with the ruling that the Constitution does not allow for the execution of criminals who committed capital crimes as juveniles.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy offered the majority opinion which indicated that executing those who were minors when their crimes were committed constitutes a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on &uot;cruel and unusual punishment.&uot;

Mark Duke, who was 16 at the time he brutally murdered his father, soon-to-be stepmother and her two daughters, ages 6 and 7, was sentenced to death in March 1999. He has been on death row at Holman Prison since that time.

Marcus Pressley, who was also 16 at the time he committed capital murder at a pawn shop on Highway 280 in 1996, was sentenced to death and has been on death row at Holman Prison since that time.

Assistant District Attorney Bill Bostick said he and other members of the DA’s office were disappointed with the high court’s ruling.

&uot;I was disappointed, especially knowing the circumstances surrounding these two cases (Duke’s and Pressley’s),&uot; Bostick said.

&uot;I was extremely disappointed in some of the reasoning used in making the decision,&uot; he said, indicating the court’s majority opinion focused on the &uot;court of international opinion.&uot;

&uot;I don’t care what they do in France or other countries, and it’s hard to say there’s a consensus when 19 states still allowed for these executions.&uot;

Justice Kennedy noted in his majority opinion, &uot;the stark reality that the United States is the only country in the world that continues to give official sanction to the juvenile death penalty.&uot;

Kennedy was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens. Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

In dissenting, Justice Scalia argued that the decision of the court was depriving each state of its right to have juries decide, on a case-by-case basis, whether an individual offender warrants the death penalty.

Bostick said he was surprised with the court’s split decision.

&uot;We didn’t expect the vote to go that way.&uot;

He said District Attorney Robby Owens provided information about the Duke case, in particular, to Alabama Attorney Gen. Troy King, who wrote a brief and submitted it to the Supreme Court.

As to the future, Bostick said the ruling was not clear on what happens now. He said that Duke and Pressley along with Alabama’s other 11 inmates who were affected by the ruling, would spend the rest of their lives in prison.

&uot;Both still have active appeals in the system,&uot; he said, however.

&uot;This ruling doesn’t change their conviction – just their punishment.