RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A death row inmate has avoided execution _ at least temporarily _ by invoking a new state Supreme Court ruling that authorities must make a reasonable effort to notify both parents when a juvenile is arrested.
Now lawyers for three other condemned men who were under 18 when they committed their crimes are weighing whether the ruling can be used to challenge those convictions.
The execution of Douglas Christopher Thomas was halted Wednesday, hours before he was to die by injection. Thomas was convicted of capital murder in the 1990 shooting deaths of his girlfriend’s parents. Only his mother was told of his arrest. He was 17 at the time.
Thomas became the first death row inmate in Virginia to take advantage of the June 11 ruling, which prosecutors say could open thousands of cases to challenge. The ruling applies to convictions as far back as 1991, the year Thomas’ case went to trial.
The reprieve doesn’t mean Thomas will necessarily get a new trial. The Supreme Court is expected to consider the case during its September session.
The high court last week ordered a new trial for Jeramie Baker, who was convicted at 17 of trying to rob a convenience store and stabbing a clerk. Only his mother was notified of his arrest, despite a state law that requires summonses go ``to the parents″ of the juvenile.
The Supreme Court said the use of the plural ``parents″ means both the mother and father.
More than half of all juveniles sentenced in criminal cases in Virginia come from single-parent homes or families headed by someone other than their biological parents. And for years, it was common practice for Virginia prosecutors to notify only one parent.
David Botkins, a spokesman for state Attorney General Mark L. Earley, said every claim of improper notification will have to be raised individually.
Jailed youths who seek release would have to go through another trial and risk a stiffer sentence, he said.