July 26, 2019 / 6:08 AM / a month ago

California judges overturn death penalty for avowed white supremacist

(Reuters) - The California Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the death penalty conviction of an avowed white supremacist, saying the prosecutor cited inflammatory evidence to sway the jury, such as the defendant’s neo-Nazi tattoos, court records showed.

The court ruled unanimously to spare the life of Jeffrey Scott Young of San Diego, convicted over the killing of two parking lot employees during a robbery near the city’s international airport in 1999, media said.

“The Constitution...protects even deeply offensive and hateful beliefs,” Justice Leondra R. Kruger of the state supreme court said in the 76-page judgment, posted online by the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.

During trial closing arguments, the prosecutor focused on the fact that Young had racist and Nazi tattoos, the court said.

Kruger, who wrote the decision for the court, said the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protecting free speech does not permit the prosecution to ask a jury to return a particular verdict because a defendant holds offensive beliefs.

The court ordered a new trial for Young, who was convicted of two first-degree murders and an attempted murder and a carjacking, to consider if he should go to the death chamber or have his sentence reduced to life without parole.

“We affirm the judgment as to guilt, reverse the judgment as to the sentence of death, and remand the matter for a new penalty determination,” Kruger wrote on behalf of the panel of seven judges.

Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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