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California and the West

Court to Let Killer Appeal Death Penalty


The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let stand a lower court ruling that allows triple killer Horace Kelly to challenge his convictions and death sentence in federal court, rendering moot a state jury verdict last year that he was sane enough to be executed.

The high court refused to review a ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that Kelly could fight his convictions in federal court although his previous lawyer missed a filing deadline. His federal appeals could take several years.

"We're thrilled at the result," said U.S. Assistant Public Defender David Fermino in Los Angeles. "We believe we have claims of merit that ought to be reviewed by a federal court, as they now will be."

Kelly, 39, was convicted of the 1984 murders of two women in San Bernardino and of an 11-year-old boy in the Riverside County town of Pedley.

Fermino said Kelly's federal claims will include challenges that a confession was involuntary and that he was incompetent to waive his federal right to remain silent when confronted by police.

With Kelly's execution imminent last year, his lawyers argued that he was not sane enough to be executed. A jury in Marin County, however, rejected that argument in the first such sanity trial in California since 1950.

The sanity trial was required when prison psychiatrists reported that Kelly, found sane during one of his murder trials, was deteriorating. Defense witnesses said Kelly talked gibberish, lived in filth and seemed unaware of his situation or surroundings in San Quentin Prison.

The issue before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday was the failure of Kelly's defense lawyers to file a federal appeal by April 1997, a deadline established for new appeals under a recent federal law.

Associated Press contributed to this story.

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