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In first vote, Sotomayor joins liberal bloc

WASHINGTON (BP)–New Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor sided with the court’s liberal bloc in her first public vote Monday in a case in which the justices refused to halt the execution of an Ohio man.

Sotomayor, on the losing end of the 5-4 vote, would have granted a stay of execution to 33-year-old Jason Getsy, a hit man who was convicted in the 1995 murder of Ann R. Serafino, 66, and the attempted murder of her son, Charles Serafino. Getsy’s guilt was not in doubt, as his lawyers were seeking to have the high court consider the constitutionality of Ohio’s lethal injection law and for Getsy’s sentence to be reduced to life in prison. The court’s conservative bloc, though, refused, and the court issued a two-paragraph order simply saying that Getsy’s request was denied and that Sotomayor, along with Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer would have granted the stay. During the court’s most recent term, Stevens acknowledged in an opinion that he believed the death penalty was unconstitutional.

Getsy, who was 19 at the time of the crime, was executed Tuesday morning.

Although it’s only one vote, liberal groups hope it’s an indication that Sotomayor will side with them on key issues. Her previous record on the death penalty is fairly thin, although she did in 1998 refuse to strike it down as unconstitutional, saying the issue was up to Congress and the Supreme Court, where, of course, she now sits. She is President Obama’s first nominee to the high court.

Getsy and an accomplice entered Ann Serafino’s house in 1995, targeting only Charles Serafino, although he was paid to kill any witnesses, too. Serafino’s mother was home. Prosecutors said Getsy hit her in the head with a gun, opening a four-inch gash, and then shot her twice. He had already shot Charles Serafino, who played dead and survived.

Getsy was sentenced to death for the crime, although the man who paid him $5,000 for the hit-job, John Santine, was spared the death penalty and received 20 years to life. Santine and Charles Serafino were in a dispute over a landscaping business.

Critics of Getsy’s sentence said it was unfair to give him the death penalty when the man who paid him for the crime received a lesser sentence. In 2006 a three-judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Getsy’s death sentence, but the full court, in a 2007, 8-6 vote, restored the sentence.

In July of this year the Ohio Parole Board, in a 5-2 vote, recommended that Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland halt the execution and instead give Getsy life without parole. Getsy was unfairly singled out for the crime, the board said.

But on Aug. 14 Strickland rejected the board’s recommendation, saying that Getsy should be executed.

“Substantial attention has been focused on the different sentences imposed upon Mr. Getsy and his co-defendant, Mr. Santine,” Strickland said in a statement. “Mr. Getsy and Mr. Santine had different roles in the murder. The fact that Mr. Santine was not sentenced to death is not, by itself, justification to commute Mr. Getsy’s sentence. Mr. Getsy’s sentence was based on his conduct and based upon our review, which included consideration of the differing Santine and Getsy sentences, I do not believe executive clemency is warranted.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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