Supreme Court takes death row habeas claim

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The US Supreme Court granted limited certiorari Monday in Bell v. Kelly (07-1223), where it will consider whether the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals erred when, in conflict with decisions of the Ninth and Tenth Circuits, it applied the deferential standard of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), reserved for claims "adjudicated on the merits" in state court, to evaluate a claim predicated on evidence of prejudice the state court refused to consider and that was properly received for the first time in a federal evidentiary hearing.

Edward Bell was convicted of the 1999 murder of a local Virginia police officer and was sentenced to death. Following a number of failed appeals, Bell sought a federal writ of habeas corpus, which was dismissed by the district court. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision, and Bell then sought certiorari. Bell contends that his counsel was ineffective during sentencing, an argument he was not able to fully develop because of the fact-finding rules imposed in the lower courts. His execution was delayed until the Supreme Court held in Baze v. Rees in April that the lethal injection method is constitutional.

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