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Washington (AP)—The Supreme Court, in a 7-2 per curiam decision on Nov. 15, overturned the death sentence of a convicted Texas killer because jurors at his trial did not consider his learning disability and other evidence. Smith v. Texas, No. 04-5323. Texas courts had turned down LaRoyce Lathair Smith’s appeal of his sentence for the January 1991 killing of a Taco Bell manager during a robbery attempt in Dallas. The victim, 19-year-old Jennifer Soto, was pistol-whipped, shot and stabbed with a butcher’s knife. In their ruling, the justices cited their decision five months ago in the case of another Texas death row inmate, Robert Tennard. “There is no question that a jury might well have considered [Smith's] IQ scores and history of participation in special-education classes as a reason to impose a sentence more lenient than death,” the court wrote. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas disagreed. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist who, like Scalia and Thomas, had opposed the earlier Texas decision, and who has been away since last month receiving treatment for thyroid cancer, supported the latest decision. In his appeal, Smith had argued that jurors weren’t allowed to consider such evidence as his being only 19 at the time of the Taco Bell robbery, his troubled home life and his low IQ and learning disabilities. A Texas court had ruled the claim irrelevant saying that there was no link between the murder and his diminished capacity. The justices have been critical of prosecutors’ handling of some capital cases in Texas. Earlier this year, justices lifted inmate Delma Banks’ death sentence and delivered a strong rebuke to Texas officials and lower courts for failing to ensure that he received a fair trial. And last year, the court sided with a black Texas death row inmate, Thomas Miller-El, who claimed that prosecutors in Dallas County had stacked his jury with whites. His case will be reviewed by the justices for the second time next month because an appeals court has again found that he should face the death penalty.

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