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An Alabama death row inmate will get a second chance to appeal his sentence after the Supreme Court ruled the state improperly handled his appeal documents.Adam Liptak of the The New York Times reports that Cory Maples, convicted of murdering two men in 1995, sent a ruling in his case to the New York law firm Sullivan and Cromwell. The law firm’s mailroom sent the ruling back unopened and marked “return to sender.”
When the Alabama state clerk’s office received the bounce back, it was simply filed away.
In the 7-2 ruling, Justice Samuel Alito described the situation as “a veritable perfect storm of misfortune, a most unlikely combination of events that, without notice, effectively deprived petitioner of legal representation.”
In oral arguments over the mixup last fall, Justice Elena Kagan took the clerk to task for not tracking such an important document.
“I am assuming that a letter disposing of a ruling in a capital case issued after 18 months when nobody knew that that letter was coming, that that’s an important letter for a death row prisoner to get,” she said.
The decision will allow a lower federal court to consider Maples’ argument that his trial court lawyers were ineffective notwithstanding the missed deadline in the state court system, the Times said, though Mr. Maples’ guilt in the case does not seem to be in serious doubt.