Juan Ignacio Blanco  


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Arthur BROWN Jr.





Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Drugs
Number of victims: 4
Date of murders: June 20, 1992
Date of arrest: 4 months after
Date of birth: August 14, 1970
Victims profile: José Guadalupe Tovar; Jessica Quinones, 19 (seven months pregnant); Audrey Brownm and Frank Farias
Method of murder: Shooting
LocationHarris County, Texas, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on June 30, 1994

Supreme Court Roundup; Justices Refuse to Review Texas Death Penalty Case

By Linda Greenhouse - The New York Times

October 21, 1997

WASHINGTON With an unusual public statement by four Justices, the Supreme Court today refused to hear a case challenging a provision of the Texas death penalty law. The law prohibits telling jurors that if they choose a life sentence instead of the death penalty, the defendant will not be released on parole for at least 40 years.

Lawyers for a Texas death row inmate had argued that it was unconstitutional to withhold truthful information that could allay a jury's fears that a dangerous murderer, if not put to death, would soon be out on the street. Texas juries in capital cases are required to assess the defendant's ''future dangerousness'' but at the same time are instructed that ''you are not to consider or discuss'' how long the defendant would actually serve if sentenced to life in prison.

This system ''unquestionably tips the scales in favor of a death sentence that a fully informed jury might not impose,'' Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in response to the Court's unsigned, one-line order denying review in the case.

In addition, Justice Stevens said, the Texas law was in ''obvious tension'' with a Supreme Court decision in a case from South Carolina in 1994 that held that when a state puts the dangerousness of a capital murder defendant at issue, it cannot conceal from the jury the existence of an alternative sentence of life without parole.

Unlike South Carolina, Texas does not give the no-parole option. So the case raised the question of whether the due process principle established in the 1994 case, Simmons v. South Carolina, extended to life sentences in which parole is a possibility.

In a footnote to his statement today, Justice Stevens said there was data on public attitudes toward the death penalty indicating that the difference between a sentence of life without parole and a life sentence with long-delayed parole was one of degree, not kind. He said that public support for the death penalty dropped notably in states that offered a guarantee of long incarceration as an alternative.

Three other Justices, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, signed the statement, which Justice Stevens characterized not as a dissent from the denial of review but as an ''opinion respecting the denial.''

What made this statement unusual was that it takes the votes of only four of the nine Justices to grant review of a case. So these four had the ability to add this case to the docket for argument and decision. That they chose not to do so may reflect their concern that the other five Justices, if put to the test, would vote to uphold the Texas law and, in doing so, convert a single state court's decision into a national rule of law.

As an alternative, the four Justices evidently decided to call attention to the issue, in the expectation that other state courts would soon be dealing with it and in doing so might create a more favorable climate for Supreme Court action. The New Mexico Supreme Court has already ruled that jurors must be informed of how parole would operate under a life sentence for a convicted murderer.

The case today, Brown v. Texas, No. 96-9187, was an appeal from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The inmate, Arthur Brown Jr., was convicted in 1993 of shooting four people to death in a drug dispute. Mr. Brown is now free to raise the same issue through a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Federal courts. But that route is unlikely to be successful because the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which includes Texas, has already rejected the argument in an unrelated case.



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