493 U.S. 907 (1989)

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U.S. Supreme Court

WATKINS v. MURRAY , 493 U.S. 907 (1989)

493 U.S. 907

Johnny WATKINS, Jr., petitioner,
Edward MURRAY, Director, Virginia Department of Corrections. No. 89-5148.

Supreme Court of the United States

October 10, 1989

The petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Virginia.


Justice BRENNAN, dissenting.

Adhering to my view that the death penalty is in all circumstances cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 227, 2950, 49 L. Ed.2d 859 (1976), I would grant certiorari and vacate the death sentence in this case.

Justice MARSHALL, dissenting.

Adhering to my view that the death penalty is in all circumstances cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth

Page 493 U.S. 907 , 908

and Fourteenth Amendments, Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 231, 2973 (1976) (MARSHALL, J., dissenting), I would grant the petition for certiorari and vacate the death penalty in this case. Even if I did not take this view, I would grant the petition to decide whether a court's failure either to inform a capital sentencing jury that it must consider mitigating evidence or to explain the concept of mitigation undermines a capital defendant's right to have the jury " consider and give effect to any mitigating evidence relevant to a defendant's background and character or the circumstances of the crime." Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302, 328, 2952 ( 1989). The judge's failure in this case to instruct the juries on the role of mitigating evidence created a substantial risk that the juries did not conduct their sentencing tasks properly. I therefore would vacate petitioner's death sentences and remand for new sentencing.

Petitioner Johnny Watkins was convicted of murder in two separate proceedings and sentenced to death for both crimes. The same judge presided at both trials. At the sentencing phase of each trial, petitioner's counsel introduced mitigating evidence concerning Watkins' character and urged the jury to consider those factors that called for mercy. The judge's instructions in each case stated that the prosecution had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt at least one of two aggravating circumstances:

"(1) That, after consideration of the circumstances surrounding this offense or the prior history and background of the defendant, there is a probability that he would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing serious threat to society; or

"(2) That the defendant's conduct in committing the offense was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman, in that it involved an aggravated battery to the victim beyond the minimum necessary to accomplish the act of murder." App. F to Pet. for Cert.

The instructions stated that each jury could sentence Watkins to death if it found that the State had proved the existence of one of the aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt; alternatively, the jury could choose the punishment of life imprisonment if it believed "from all the evidence that the death penalty is not justified." Ibid. The instructions did not mention "mitigating evidence" or any equivalent concept. The judge also read the [493 U.S. 907 , 909]

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