The Nevada Supreme Court upheld the murder conviction but called for a new penalty hearing for a skinhead leader sentenced in 2001 to die for killing two men who opposed his racist beliefs.
John Edward Butler will get a new hearing as a result of several problems in the penalty phase of his Clark County District Court trial, the court ruled Monday.
The court cited an erroneous jury instruction and inflammatory comments made by prosecutors to the jury about the tactics Butler's defense attorneys used to argue for a sentence less than death.
"Butler not only has a legal right, but his counsel have an ethical duty, to present all evidence in mitigation of a death sentence," the court said.
Two of the five justices who agreed a new penalty hearing was warranted disagreed that prosecutors engaged in misconduct in their comments to the jury.
Justices Deborah Agosti and Bill Maupin said calling an expert defense witness "high falootin" - did not rise to the level of misconduct, but said other factors cited by Chief Justice Miriam Shearing in the majority opinion warranted the penalty hearing.
Justice Mark Gibbons was the lone dissenter, saying he would have upheld the death sentence.
Joseph Sciscento, one of two attorneys who represented Butler at trial, called the ruling a partial victory.
He cited comments from the state high court that both defense attorneys should have been allowed to present arguments in the penalty phase. Sciscento was not allowed to make an argument.
Butler was a leader of the Independent Nazi Skins when Lin Newborn, 25, and Daniel Shersty, 21, were slain. Shersty was white. Newborn was black. Prosecutors said they were members of a skinhead group that worked against racism.
Prosecutors told jurors that several people participated in the Independence Day 1998 ambush near Powerline Road and Centennial Parkway.
Butler was the only person charged in the case. Jurors found him guilty in December 2000, and recommended in January 2001 that he die by lethal injection.