Ruling that juries — not judges — should decide between life and death for a defendant, the Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday set aside the death sentence for a Columbia man convicted of killing three people.
In a 7-0 decision, the state high court resentenced Deandra Buchanan, 30, to life in prison without possibility of parole or probation for the November 2000 killings of his aunt, girlfriend and stepfather.
Boone County Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton had sentenced Buchanan to death last year after a jury that found him guilty couldn’t agree on a punishment.
On Tuesday, the court relied on its own ruling in State v. Whitfield, in which a St. Louis County judge imposed the death penalty on a convicted murderer after the jury deadlocked during the punishment phase of the trial. The court overturned Joseph Whitfield’s death sentence in June.
In a concurring opinion, Justices Duane Benton, William Ray Price Jr. and Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. said they were bound by the Whitfield ruling to vote to set aside Buchanan’s death sentence.
“Although we dissented from that opinion, we must follow the decisions of this court, even if we disagree, or even if the decision appears to be in error,” the three judges wrote.
Scott Holste, a spokesman for the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, said a decision whether to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court has not been made. However, he said, the Buchanan case does not appear to be the kind of case where the state would seek an appeal.
Citing the Whitfield case as well as a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that juries must determine whether defendants in capital cases are executed or jailed for life, Brotherton argued before the Missouri Supreme Court on Sept. 3 that it was unconstitutional for a judge to sentence Buchanan to death.