Supreme Court rules Florida death sentence case unconstitutional

Timothy Lee Hurst, whose photo was provided by Florida Department of Corrections.

Story highlights

  • U.S. Supreme Court ruling will likely lead to challenges from other Florida death row inmates
  • States with death sentencing systems like Florida's could also see challenges, analysts add
  • "We hold this sentencing scheme unconstitutional," U.S. Supreme Court says about Florida

(CNN)The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the process used to condemn a Florida death row inmate was unconstitutional because a judge rather than a jury was the final arbiter of fact in sentencing, opening the door to further challenges in death penalty cases in Florida and elsewhere.

The 8-1 ruling came in a challenge filed by death row inmate Timothy Lee Hurst, 37, convicted of murdering restaurant co-worker Cynthia Harrison, who was bound, gagged, and stabbed more than 60 times in 1998.
A jury recommended a death sentence for Hurst, but it was the judge who held a separate hearing and determined there were sufficient aggravating circumstances to impose the death penalty, the high court said.
    "We hold this sentencing scheme unconstitutional," the ruling said. "The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death. A jury's recommendation is not enough."