The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to consider the appeal of a death row inmate who claimed he was poorly defended and abused as a child.
Benny Lee Hodge, sentenced to death in 1986 for murder, asked that his case be reconsidered because, during this trial, his legal counsel did not present evidence that he had suffered mental and physical abuse as a child. The Kentucky Supreme Court rejected his appeal and so he went to the top US court.
But the nine-member Supreme Court also rejected his appeal, with no comment other than the dissenting opinion by Justice Sonia Sotomayor who argued that there were “clear errors” in the case that should be “redressed.”
“If counsel had made any effort, he would have found that Hodge, as a child, suffered what the Kentucky Supreme Court called a ‘most severe and unimaginable level of physical and mental abuse,’” Sotomayor wrote, adding that the state of Kentucky conceded that the performance of Hodge’s counsel was constitutionally deficient as a result, but that he should still be executed.
“Yet the court below concluded that Hodge would have been sentenced to death anyway because even if this evidence had been presented, it would not have explained his actions and thus the jury would have arrived at the same result.”
“This was error,” she added. “Mitigation evidence need not, and rarely could, explain a heinous crime; rather, mitigation evidence allows a jury to make a reasoned moral decision whether the individual defendant deserves to be executed, or to be shown mercy instead.”
Hodge has been on death row in Kentucky for 26 years. He was first sentenced to death for murdering the daughter of a doctor from whom he stole $1.9 million, weapons and jewelry in August 1985 together with two accomplices.
He received a second death sentence in 1996 for the murder of a couple he had robbed in June 1985.