Source AP ©

Death row inmate loses appeal

The United States' top court rejected an appeal from an Arizona man, who says he has been on death row too long to be executed.

Joe Clarence Smith Jr. has been sentenced three times to die for his crimes. Smith picked up two teen-age hitchhikers in the desert, a month apart, and killed them by stuffing their throats with dirt and taping their mouths. He also stabbed them repeatedly.

The justices rejected Smith's latest plea to avoid Arizona's execution chamber in which he argued that executing him after so much time on death row would violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Alone among his colleagues, Justice Stephen Breyer said he would have agreed to hear Smith's case.

"In my view, Smith can reasonably claim that his execution at this late date would be 'unusual,"' Breyer wrote, explaining his vote. "And whether it is 'cruel' to keep an individual for decades on death row ... raises a serious constitutional question."

Smith's first death sentence was thrown out because of a change in Arizona's death penalty statutes. A federal appeals court tossed out second sentence after finding that his lawyers did a poor job at the second sentencing proceeding.

In 2004, an Arizona trial court then rejected his claim that he has been on death row too long and sentenced him to death again, a decision upheld by the state Supreme Court.