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Supreme Court rejects appeal by O.C. murderer who claimed ‘inhumane stress’ caused by death row wait

The Supreme Court building at sunset in Washington.
(Jon Elswick / Associated Press)

The U.S. Supreme Court, over a dissent from Justice Stephen Breyer, turned down a challenge to California’s death penalty system from an Orange County murderer who said that waiting decades on death row results in “psychologically inhumane stress.”

His appeal pointed to what it called the state’s “dysfunctional” system of capital punishment. With 743 inmates facing death sentences, California has by far the nation’s biggest death row, but it has carried out only 13 executions in 40 years, and none since 2006.

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Richard Boyer was sentenced to death in 1984 for the robbery and murder of an elderly couple in Fullerton. The state Supreme Court overturned his conviction because of a police error, but he was tried and convicted again and sentenced to death in 1992.

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Last year, Breyer, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said he believed capital punishment as practiced in America was unconstitutional because the system has proven to be unreliable and random.

He filed a two-page dissent Monday arguing the high court should have heard Boyer’s appeal.

“More California death row inmates had committed suicide than had been executed by the state.” he said, citing a report by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. “Indeed, only a small, apparently random set of death row inmates had been executed.”

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“Put simply, California’s costly ‘administration of the death penalty’ likely embodies ‘three fundamental defects’ about which I have previously written: (1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose.”

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