A unanimous opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer said a federal appeals court made a mistake in setting aside Frank Spisak Jr.'s death penalty.
Spisak killed three people, and shot a fourth seven times. The fourth victim survived.
Spisak testified at his trial that he was following the teachings of Adolf Hitler and promised to continue killing, Clear Channel radio reported. A jury convicted him and sentenced him to death. The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the conviction and the death sentence in 1988, the report said.
But Breyer said a federal appeals court based in Cincinnati agreed with Spisak's lawyers, who said the jury's instructions before the sentencing were unconstitutional -- that that jury was told it could only consider mitigating circumstances, details which might incline them to mercy, if they unanimously found them to be mitigating. The appeals court also agreed with Spisak that an inadequate closing argument by his trial lawyer deprived him of effective assistance of counsel.
In reversing the appeals court, Breyer said the instructions were not inconsistent with federal law, and even assuming that his lawyer's closing argument was inadequate, there's no indication that a more effective argument would have made a difference given "Spisak's boastful and unrepentant confessions, and his threats to commit further violent acts."