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Death penalty reinstated for man convicted of 2 murders

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday reinstated the death penalty for a man convicted in a double murder despite complaints that his lawyers did not offer evidence of his psychological condition at his penalty trial.

The high court overturned an appeals court decision to throw out the death penalty for Scott Pinholster because of bad legal representation.

Pinholster was convicted in 1984 of brutally beating and stabbing two men to death when they interrupted a burglary he and two accomplices were committing in Los Angeles.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Pinholster’s death sentence because his lawyer did not give a jury evidence of mental illness during the penalty phase of his murder trial. The San Francisco-based court said that evidence might have persuaded the jury to reject the death sentence.

The high court, in a decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas, overturned that ruling. “There is no reasonable probability that the additional evidence Pinholster presented in his state habeas proceeding would have changed the jury’s verdict,” Thomas said.

He was joined in the majority judgment in full by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, while Justice Samuel Alito joined the majority judgment in part. Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan joined the majority judgment in part and dissented in part.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, and was joined her dissent in part by Kagan and Ginsburg.

She noted that Pinholster’s state appeals lawyer conducted virtually no mitigation investigation despite him having a long history of emotional disturbances and neurological problems.

“The contrast between the ‘not persuasive’ mitigation case put on by Pinholster’s counsel and the substantial mitigation evidence at their fingertips was stark,” Sotomayor said. “Given these considerations, it is not a forgone conclusion, as the majority deems it, that a juror familiar with his troubled background and psychiatric issues would have reached the same conclusion regarding Pinholster’s culpability.”

The case is Cullen v. Pinholster, 09-1088.