USA. ALITO'S FIRST OPINION SETS ASIDE SOUTH CAROLINA DEATH SENTENCE
May 1, 2006: the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously set aside a South Carolina murder conviction and death sentence, as Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. in his 1st high court opinion said the man wasn't given a fair chance to mount a defense.
Alito said South Carolina lacked a legitimate reason to bar Bobby Lee Holmes from presenting evidence suggesting that another man had committed the of Dec. 31, 1989 rape and murder of an 86-year-old woman. The ruling overturned a November 2004 4-1 decision by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
"The rule applied in his case by the state Supreme Court violates a criminal defendant's right to have a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense," wrote Alito, who took his seat Jan. 31 after Senate confirmation.
Holmes sought to call several witnesses who had said at a pretrial hearing that another man, Jimmy McCaw White, admitted attacking Mary Stewart. Other witnesses testified that White was in the victim's neighborhood on the morning of the crime. At the pretrial hearing, White denied involvement.
In rejecting the testimony at the trial itself, a judge pointed to a state Supreme Court ruling barring evidence of third-party guilt if it merely "casts a bare suspicion upon another." The case is Holmes v. South Carolina, 04-1327. (Sources: 01/05/2006, Bloomberg News)