WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday gave a boost to a Texas death row inmate, allowing him to try to secure government funding to press his claim that his trial lawyers made errors that could enable him to avoid execution.
The justices, ruling 9-0, threw out a lower court ruling preventing a Honduran man named Carlos Manuel Ayestas from seeking funds to collect mitigating evidence that could lead to his death sentence being thrown out. The justices tossed out a lower court’s ruling denying Ayestas access to public funding to cover the cost of investigations to assist low-income defendants at trial.
Ayestas, convicted of the 1995 murder of a 67-year-old woman during a Houston home robbery, has said his trial lawyers neglected to offer evidence to a jury that could have spared him from receiving a death sentence. Ayestas is a Honduran national who entered the United States illegally.
The justices sent the case back to lower courts so Ayestas can mount another attempt to get the funding. Justice Samuel Alito wrote on behalf of the court that the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals adopted the wrong legal rationale in deciding the case.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Ayestas has made “a strong showing” that he is entitled to the funding.
His current lawyers have said his mental health and substance abuse could have been valuable mitigating evidence during his original sentencing hearing. They said that since the trial he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was a regular user of cocaine and alcohol around the time of the crime.
Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham