ATLANTA (AP) _ A panel of federal judges on Friday overturned the death sentence of a man who was the first person sentenced to execution by the United States under a 1988 federal drug law.

The United States has not executed anyone in 36 years.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that David Ronald Chandler of Piedmont, Ala., was not properly defended by his attorney during his sentencing phase.

Chandler's conviction for arranging the slaying of an informant, however, still stands and the case was sent back to the lower court for resentencing.

U.S. Attorney Doug Jones in Birmingham, Ala., had not decided whether to appeal.

Chandler's trial attorney, Drew Redden, testified at an appeals hearing that he made ``very little'' effort to sway the jury to spare Chandler's life. Two judges wrote that the jury that sentenced him did not hear witnesses and evidence that showed a ``more admirable'' side of Chandler.

Chandler was convicted in 1991 of operating a large marijuana ring in northeast Alabama and arranging the murder of Marlin Shuler, a member of his network who became a government informant. The man who killed Shuler is serving 25 years to life.

Chandler was the first person sentenced under the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which allows the death penalty for killings associated with a criminal enterprise.

His execution has been on hold since last year, when the court agreed to hear his appeal.

The last federal execution was 36 years ago, when Victor Feguer was hanged in Iowa for kidnapping and killing a doctor.