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State high court withdraws inmate from death row

July 27, 2007|From the Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — The state Supreme Court took the rare step Thursday of removing an inmate from death row after concluding that the convicted killer's lawyer failed to present crucial evidence during trial.

In its unanimous decision, the high court kept intact the first-degree murder conviction of James Edward Hardy, but said a new penalty phase is needed because there is now "substantial doubt" that he was the killer, as the prosecution had argued.

The California Supreme Court said it appears the actual killer in the murder-for-hire plot was another man who was not prosecuted for the slayings.

Hardy was convicted in 1983, along with Mark Anthony Reilly, of killing Reilly's wife and her 8-year-old son in Van Nuys to collect on a life insurance policy. The mother and son were stabbed to death as they slept.

At trial, the prosecution alleged that Reilly hired Hardy to perform the killings. But after Hardy's appellate lawyers presented evidence that a third conspirator did the actual killing, the Supreme Court ordered a hearing into the matter.

The referee presiding over the hearing agreed with Hardy's lawyers, and the Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a new trial to determine if Hardy should be executed or sentenced to life in prison. The high court said Hardy was still guilty of murder for his active participation in planning the murders.

Witnesses who testified after the trial said that Hardy backed out and that another man, Calvin Boyd, took his place.

Boyd was seen with cuts on his hand immediately after the stabbings. Other witnesses testified that Boyd told them of tripping over the boy and putting a pillow over the boy's head before stabbing him.

The Supreme Court said that Boyd was given immunity from prosecution for his testimony against Hardy and the other conspirators.

Boyd apparently convinced investigators and prosecutors that he had nothing to do with the killings, in part because his wife and stepson said he was passed out drunk at home the night of the murders.

The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, said Hardy's evidence that he wasn't the actual killer "so undermines our confidence in the penalty verdict that a different, more favorable result was reasonably probable had this evidence been presented to the jury."

Also Thursday, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the death penalty of Lamar Barnwell for shooting to death four people in an unrelated case.

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