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High court upholds ruling overturning 'Skid Row Stabber' verdicts

The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand a ruling that overturned murder convictions in two slayings tied to the so-called "Skid Row Stabber," who was thought to be responsible for the killing of as many as 10 homeless men in downtown Los Angeles in the late 1970s.

After a lengthy trial in 1984, Bobby Joe Maxwell was convicted of two murders and sentenced to life in prison.

Last year, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals set aside his convictions because a key witness for the prosecution, a jailhouse informant named Sidney Storch, had been exposed as a "habitual liar." Storch, now dead, was known to read newspaper stories in his cell and then offer testimony that would be useful to prosecutors in exchange for favors, Judge Richard Paez wrote.

The case against Maxwell was circumstantial. Prosecutors introduced evidence that three homeless men reported speaking with a man who resembled Maxwell near the stabbing scenes, but they were unable to identify Maxwell. Maxwell was found with a knife similar to one used in the murders, and his palm print was found near one victim.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented Monday. The passage of time and "the intervening loss of witnesses and evidence will likely make it impossible to retry" Maxwell, Scalia said. He faulted the 9th Circuit for second-guessing the California courts, which had upheld the conviction.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, said it will review the case before deciding how to proceed.

david.savage@latimes.com

Times staff writer Victoria Kim contributed to this report.

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