Supreme Court tosses out death sentence for Tennessee inmate

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 10:16am
Staff Reports

A Tennessee death row inmate who has been appealing his 1982 murder conviction for years had his death sentence thrown out Tuesday by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court ruled that the inmate, Gary Bradford Cone, was deprived of key evidence at his trial. Cole was convicted for the killing of an elderly Memphis couple in 1980, but Tuesday justices set aside the death sentence.

Cone, a Vietnam veteran who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), has claimed that the first-degree murder charge for the beating deaths of Shipley and Cleopatra Todd was a result of his disorder coupled with a strong addiction to drugs.

At his original trial, his lawyer presented no mitigating evidence on his client’s behalf and made no closing argument. That defense attorney, John Dice, was later diagnosed with mental illness and subsequently committed suicide.

Prosecutors in the case reportedly belittled Cone's claims, but it was later revealed that information that could have substantiated the defendant’s claims had been withheld.

In 1982, a Tennessee state court sentenced Cone to death after convicting him of two counts of first degree murder, two counts of murder in the perpetration of a burglary, three counts of assault with intent to commit murder, and one count of robbery by use of deadly force. The jury found Cone had killed the Todds while hiding out after a robbery.

The Tennessee courts upheld Cone’s conviction and sentence on direct appeal and denied his petitions for post-conviction relief.

Then, in 2000, Cone filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court, which, in due course, was denied. He appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, which granted Cone’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus on the grounds that his lawyer’s handling of the sentencing hearing was so deficient that it violated the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that ruling in 2002, keeping Cone on death row until Tuesday’s ruling by the high court.