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High court roundup: murder cases, ballot dispute

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Tue October 11, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Supreme Court will hear an appeal regarding retrial in a capital murder case
  • The court refuses to hear an appeal in a Buddhist temple mass slaying
  • The court also opts not to get involved in a presidential ballot dispute case

Washington (CNN) -- An Arkansas man charged with murder will get a hearing before the Supreme Court over whether he can be retried on that charge after the trial jury's failure to reach unanimous verdicts on other charges.

The justices on Tuesday accepted the appeal of Alex Blueford, accused of killing his girlfriend's infant son. At issue is whether a criminal defendant can be retried on more serious charges if the jury deadlocks on a lesser charge.

Blueford was prosecuted for capital murder, meaning he could have received the death penalty if convicted. But the trial judge said the Pulaski County jury could also consider three less serious crimes. During deliberations, the judge asked for a progress report, and the panel's forewoman in open court announced the jurors had rejected the capital and first-degree murder charges, but could not agree on manslaughter.

They eventually deadlocked, and because of that, the 12 members did not even consider a negligent homicide charge.

The judge then declared a mistrial, but refused to give Blueford a partial victory on the capital and first-degree murder charges. Prosecutors then decided to retry the 29-year-old man on all the charges. The second trail has been postponed until the high court decides whether the defendant's constitutional rights are being violated.

The double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment prevents trying a person again for a crime after a not-guilty verdict. But state courts around the country are at odds on whether split verdicts on some counts allow retrial on all counts. The justices will decide this question in arguments early next year. A ruling can be expected by June.

The Little Rock man was prosecuted in the November 2007 death of 20-month-old Matthew McFadden Jr. The state said the boy's brain injuries were comparable to someone being dropped off a building. Blueford told police it was an accident, that he "reflexively elbowed" the child into a nearby chair.

The case is Blueford v. Arkansas (10-1320).

Separately, an Arizona man accused in a multiple slaying at a Buddhist temple may soon get a new trial, or possibly be released from jail, after the Supreme Court justices refused to accept a state's petition.

A federal appeals court had twice tossed out a confession Jonathan Doody gave police about his involvement in the brutal executions of nine people at Wat Promkunaram, a Thai monastery west of Phoenix. The victims included six Thai Buddhist monks, an elderly woman described as a nun, and two young men who helped or studied at the sanctuary. They were lined up in a circle and shot execution-style with a .22 caliber rifle.

Doody, then 17 and a high-school student, and another teenager were arrested for the notorious 1991 crimes. Investigators at the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department claimed the boys had hoped to find gold at the temple, but wound up taking $2,650 and some electronic equipment. Doody was convicted of being the triggerman and sentenced to 281 years in prison, where he remains to this day.

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in May concluded Doody had been misled about his right against self-incrimination before being interrogated by detectives.

"Nearly 13 hours of relentless overnight questioning of a sleep-deprived teenager by a tag team of officers overbore the will of that teen, rendering his confession involuntary," said the panel, which was split 8-3.

The state then asked the Supreme Court to step into the case, but the justices declined. The court's brief order noted Justice Samuel Alito wanted his colleagues to review the questions raised by the state.

The case is Ryan v. Doody (11-175).

And the high court also agreed to stay out of a dispute over who should have appeared on New Hampshire's presidential ballot in 2008.

The Libertarian Party had protested having another candidate's name listed alongside their nationally chosen candidate, former Georgia congressman Bob Barr. But George Phillies had successfully petitioned to appear on New Hampshire's ballot as a fellow Libertarian. The Worcester, Massachusetts, resident claimed the state Libertarian Party had chosen him as its presidential candidate.

National party leaders sued, saying Barr should have been the only Libertarian listed.

Although the case is moot in some sense because neither candidate prevailed in the general election, won by Barack Obama, the national Libertarian Party sought legal guidance on its ability to choose preferred candidates for national office, without state affiliates or individuals having discretion to pick their own political slates.

Barr had served in Congress as a Republican from 1995 to 2003, but joined the Libertarians in 2006. At one time he also was a commentator for CNN.

The case is Libertarian Party of New Hampshire v. Gardener (11-119).

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