The Alabama Supreme Court in 2010 reversed Jerry Jerome Smith’s death sentence because jurors had been unfairly influenced by improper contacts and interactions with members of the victim’s family and ordered a new sentencing trial.
At the new sentencing trial, the judge improperly instructed the jury that it could consider an aggravating circumstance that did not exist at the time of the offense. The error was so clear that the Attorney General’s Office agreed the case had to be reversed.
The Court of Criminal Appeals found that giving the wrong instruction mattered here because a properly-instructed jury may have rejected a death sentence in light of strong mitigating evidence about Mr. Smith’s intellectual disabilities and traumatic upbringing. “After reviewing the evidence presented in mitigation and the aggravating circumstances,” the Court of Criminal Appeals wrote that it could not “state ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that a properly instructed jury would nevertheless have recommended a sentence of death.”
The court reversed Mr. Smith’s death sentence and ordered the trial court to conduct a fourth penalty-phase proceeding.