Defendant’s right to blame debated

By Toni Locy The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – President Bush’s two Supreme Court appointees waded into the nuances of the death penalty yesterday, showing a difference in style on one of the perennial controversies confronting the high court.

How Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito vote in the case out of South Carolina could determine the limits states can impose on defendants who try to blame someone else during death penalty trials.

A trial judge excluded evidence that Bobby Lee Holmes wanted to present at trial that accused another man in the 1989 beating, rape and robbery of Mary Stewart, 86, who later died of her injuries.

The South Carolina Supreme Court upheld the trial judge’s decision, ruling that the state’s forensic evidence was so strong that Holmes could not raise “a reasonable inference” of his innocence.

Holmes’ attorney, John Blume, said the South Carolina court’s decision unconstitutionally “stacks the deck” in the prosecution’s favor by requiring judges to weigh the prosecution’s evidence against a defendant’s claim that someone else committed the crime.