Supreme Court To Hear Death Case In Payson

First-ever hearings in Gila County

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The fate of a condemned murderer and a Tucson man who hid meth in a spray can will occupy the attention of the Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday when it holds a historic hearing in the Payson High School Auditorium.

Gila County Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill said the county officials pushed to have the appeal hearings in Payson with interesting high profile cases.

"It is important for the judicial branch to reach out to all Arizona residents, giving them the opportunity to see the Supreme Court at work," said Chief Justice Ruth V. McGregor.

"Following the oral arguments the Court will host an informal question and answer period, giving those in attendance a chance to learn about Supreme Court practice," said Judge Cahill.

Hundreds of school children will attend together with as many members of the public as can crowd into the 900-seat auditorium to hear attorneys plead for the life of their client -- and a chance to win a precedent that will affect future trials.

In one case, defense attorneys claim that prosecutors misstated the facts and manipulated the jury to make the impulsive killing of an alleged child molester seem like a cold-blooded murder for money.

In the second case, the justices will reconsider an appeals court ruling that overturned a drug conviction because a prosecutor changed the charges at the end of the trial after a key expert witness failed to show up.

The court normally hears cases in its downtown Phoenix offices, but sometimes holds its deliberations in other towns in an effort to give the public a chance to watch the system operate.

The hearing marks the first time the supreme court deliberated in Payson or Gila County, said a court spokesman. The justices review about 1,200 cases annually, but make rulings and hold hearings in only about 40. That includes 10-12 death penalty cases annually, since all death sentences are automatically reviewed by the supreme court.

In this case, the hearing will feature oral arguments on both sides of two cases, open to the public on a first-come first serve basis. The arguments start at 9 a.m. and members of the public are urged to get there early, to pass through security screening. Construction work around the school may complicate parking, which is available in the football stadium parking lot off Longhorn Road.

The two cases selected for hearing involve a death penalty appeal and a drug possession case. Attorneys on each side will have about 25 minutes to make their case, which they've already laid out in detailed legal briefs citing hundreds of precedents to support of their positions. The oral arguments phase is mostly a chance for the justices to grill the attorneys on legal points raised in those briefs, so the oral arguments phase often offers a lively discussion on vital points of law, conducted by some of the leading attorneys in the state.

In this case, the justices will conclude the session by taking questions from members of the audience.

Audience members will pass through metal detectors and cannot bring laptops, pagers, cameras, radios, CDs or other electronic equipment. Since there's no where to store such banned items during the hearing, anyone who brings such banned equipment won't be allowed to enter.

Also barred are bulky jackets, book bags and food or beverages -- including bottled water.

The court's dress code allows normal business attire, with no cut off or torn jeans, flip flops, shorts or halter tops or hats worn in the courtroom.

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