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Not This Time: Supreme Court Rejects Re-Sentencing For Murderer of 13-Year-Old Girl

| August 11, 2017

James Hitchcock.

James Hitchcock.

In a case stemming from the 1976 strangulation of a 13-year-old girl, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected arguments that a Death Row inmate should receive a new sentencing hearing.


The arguments by attorneys for inmate James Ernest Hitchcock were rooted in a major 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling and subsequent Florida decisions that have led to requiring unanimous jury recommendations before defendants can be sentenced to death.

With Hitchcock sent to Death Row after a 10-2 jury recommendation, his attorneys argued that the new unanimity standard should retroactively apply to his case and lead to a new sentencing hearing.

But justices, as they have done recently in other cases, rejected the idea that the unanimity requirement should be applied to such old cases. The opinion was fully shared by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Peggy Quince, Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson, while justices R. Fred Lewis and Charles Canady concurred without signing on to the majority opinion.

Justice Barbara Pariente dissented and pointed, in part, to the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment.

“Reliability is the linchpin of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence, and a death sentence imposed without a unanimous jury verdict for death is inherently unreliable,” Pariente wrote.

Hitchcock, now 61, was convicted in the murder of his brother’s 13-year-old stepdaughter in Orange County, according to court documents. He was accused of going into the girl’s bedroom in the middle of the night, having sexual intercourse with her and then killing her when she said she was going to tell her mother.

Hitchcock had to be resentenced three times because of a series of U.S. Supreme Court and Florida Supreme Court rulings in his case. In his final sentencing proceeding, the jury voted 10-2 to recommend the death penalty, and the Florida Supreme Court upheld that sentence in 2000.

Thursday’s ruling stemmed, in part, from a January 2016 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that found Florida’s death-penalty sentencing system unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to judges, instead of juries. That ruling, in a case known as Hurst v. Florida, has spawned extensive litigation about death-penalty cases and legislation to change the sentencing system.

As part of that litigation, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that juries are required to make unanimous recommendations before judges can sentence defendants to death. Florida long allowed majorities of juries to recommend death sentences.

Also, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled that the unanimity standard should apply to cases dating back to 2002. That is when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case known as Ring v. Arizona, which was a key underpinning of the Hurst v. Florida decision.

Hitchcock and other longtime Death Row inmates have argued that the unanimity standard also should apply to cases decided before 2002. But the decision Thursday appeared to make clear that the Supreme Court will not go along with such arguments.

“Hitchcock is among those defendants whose death sentences were final before Ring, and his arguments do not compel departing from our precedent,” the majority opinion said.

–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

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5 Responses for “Not This Time: Supreme Court Rejects Re-Sentencing For Murderer of 13-Year-Old Girl”

  1. another vet says:

    1976 and this scumbag is still alive? There’s the problem with the justice system

  2. sam says:

    The system is broken too many loopholes and previdledges for these animals, and a waste of tax payers dollars. This is part of the problem why we cannot afford free education and a single payer health care system.

  3. MannyHM says:

    He had become a rabid dog from being a human. Lady Justice is holding that balance in her hand and waving it demanding that it be balanced. He killed a purely innocent victim and should pay with the same manner of death on his life. If I were to kill a totally innocent victim like this 13 year old, that’s not my true nature anymore, all traces of humanity had left me and I truly feel I should not live anymore. A sad case.

  4. r&r says:

    Over 40 years he’s been living a good life on our tax dollars. What the hell is wrong? This system needs a good over haul including the Judges. Sentences should be carried out within a year. In other countries it’s done within 30 DAYS.

  5. Sw says:

    He should have been hanged publicly long ago.

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