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A Pennsylvania death row inmate has been playing tug-of-war with his death sentence in the courts. Now, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated his death sentence, after the District Court had earlier vacated it.
The District Court found that David Copenhefer had no prior criminal record and that this served as a mitigating factor in his death sentence. This factor, the District Court found, wasn't taken into full account by the trial court during his sentencing phase.
Copenhefer was convicted in the 1988 murder of Sally Weiner. He fatally shot Weiner and sought ransom from her husband, according to The Associated Press.
The appeal focused on error in his sentence and error in his conviction. The entire Third Circuit opinion is over forty pages long and we’ll stick to the appeal of the death sentence. If you want to read more on his conviction appeal, you can read the case here.
Copenhefer’s attorneys raised the Eighth Amendment. Specifically they argued that there had been error in the jury instructions, where the jury didn’t adequately consider his lack of prior criminal activity as a mitigating factor to his death sentence.
The appeals court found that not only was the jury afforded a chance to consider the mitigating factors, but that it was ordered to consider the factors.
The fact was that the aggravated circumstances surrounding the murder were weighed against the mitigating factors and came out on top.
According to the Third Circuit’s opinion, not one juror found that his lack of a prior record (or any other mitigating factors) made up for the brutality of the murder.
Copenhefer raised other issues, such as the ineffective assistance of counsel and improper jury selection. The Third Circuit rejected each of his arguments and affirmed his sentence.