Monday, February 8, 2010

South Carolina Court Vacates Death Sentence

Eddie Elmore had been on South Carolina's death row for over half his life when Judge Mark Hayes (Greenville) vacated Elmore's death sentence on February 4 and ordered him to serve a life sentence instead.  Elmore was convicted and sentenced to die in 1982 for the stabbing death of 75-year-old Dorothy Edwards.  Since then, Elmore's case has traveled through many jurisdictions, including the Supreme Court of the United States, which in 1986 vacated Elmore's sentence.  Elmore was then retried twice and eventually convicted again.

Last May, a team of defense attorneys led by nationally-renowned South Carolina criminal defense attorney and death penalty advocate John Blume took up Elmore's case again.  The attorneys petitioned for post-conviction relief (a civil state action similar to habeas corpus), arguing that Elmore is ineligible for the death penalty based on Atkins v. Virginia, a 2002 Supreme Court decision holding that execution of people who are mentally retarded (defined on a state-by-state basis) violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Elmore's attorneys proved he met South Carolina's definition of mental retardation, and Judge Hayes appropriately vacated Elmore's death sentence and remanded the matter to the Court of General Sessions for resentencing.

In PCR petitions, South Carolina criminal defense attorneys need to be more aggressive in pushing the Atkins argument.  Blume has been a pioneer on the state and national levels by ensuring defendants' Eighth Amendment rights are adequately protected.  PCR is often seen as a last-ditch haphazard legal avenue, but in reality it is an effective mechanism in the right hands.

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