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The Supreme Court considered Tuesday whether to throw out a Missouri inmate’s death sentence because he was forced to appear in shackles and chains while a jury decided his fate. The lawyer for convicted double-killer Carman Deck said keeping her client in leg irons and handcuffed to a chain around his belly during the sentencing phase of the trial made him look especially dangerous to jurors and violated his constitutional right to a fair hearing. “Shackling a defendant basically places a thumb on death’s side of the scale and dehumanizes him, making it easier for a jury to find in favor of a death sentence,” attorney Rosemary Percival argued. Missouri Assistant Attorney General Cheryl Nield argued that jurors expect someone convicted of double murder to be physically restrained, so his appearance in shackles would not necessarily change jurors’ attitudes about him. “To present Mr. Deck in restraints could hardly come as a shock,” Nield said. The Court has held that people on trial can be shackled, but only if prosecutors have a strong argument for it. At issue is whether the Court should extend that rationale to a separate sentencing hearing, where the defendant is no longer presumed innocent. Deck confessed to the execution-style slayings of James Long, 69, and his wife, Zelma, 67, near De Soto, Mo., in 1996. He went to the elderly couple’s door asking for directions, but once inside shot them both twice in the head and stole about $400. During oral arguments, several of the justices appeared troubled that the trial judge decided to shackle Deck solely because he was convicted, without citing a specific reason for him to be considered a danger. “There’s no question he committed the two murders, but I don’t know that he was dangerous in the courtroom,” said Justice David H. Souter. Nield said the trial judge could conclude Deck was dangerous “by definition” after he was convicted. “The bottom line is restraining somebody who’s been convicted of murder is not prejudicial or misleading,” she said. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg questioned why the trial judge did not consider a less visible means of restraint, such as making Deck wear ankle chains attached to a hook on the floor, out of view of jurors. Nield conceded it would have been better if the judge had explained his actions, but she stressed that his decision was reasonable. She argued that being in shackles in the courtroom may have weighed against a death sentence by showing jurors how Deck could be restrained through lifetime incarceration. Justice Antonin Scalia said a convicted killer could be perceived as more dangerous to a sentencing jury — and more likely to get the death penalty — if the defendant is not shackled. “If I were a prosecutor, I would rather have him dress up in a nice new suit and have his hair combed and smiling,” Scalia said. Justice Anthony Kennedy agreed with Scalia that the prejudice argument could cut both ways, but he said he was troubled by Nield’s assertion that any defendant in Missouri could be shackled in court once convicted, no matter what the offense. “I think you have to say that this is inherently inconsistent with the atmosphere we want in the courtroom,” Kennedy said. The case is Deck v. Missouri, 04-5293. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed.

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