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Ariz. to Make Death Penalty Changes

July 30, 2002

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PHOENIX (AP) _ Gov. Jane Hull has called lawmakers into a special session to alter the state’s death penalty sentencing procedures to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Lawmakers were to begin meeting Tuesday in the session that is expected to last three days.

The high court ruled in June that juries, not judges, must decide if certain aggravating circumstances in a particular case warrant a death sentence for a convicted murderer.

Arizona is among a handful of states where the judge alone determines whether a defendant can be sentenced to death or life in prison. The high court’s ruling renders Arizona’s capital sentencing scheme unconstitutional.

Defense lawyers are urging lawmakers to study the issue over time because it would dramatically change how sentences are imposed. Prosecutors argue the fate of dozens of pending cases await action.

``This is not the time to debate the death penalty in Arizona,″ said House Majority Leader Carolyn Allen, a Republican. ``We need to keep this to the narrow issue.″

But Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, said the issue should be decided by voters.

The state has more than 90 death penalty cases either pending trial or sentencing, said Jerry Landau, a special assistant Maricopa County attorney. He said about 30 death penalty cases were on direct appeal to the Supreme Court.

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