June 19 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of an Alabama death row inmate who's seeking an independent psychological evaluation.
The high court ruled in a 5-4 vote to reverse a lower court's ruling that dismissed the appeal of inmate James E. McWilliams, Jr., that was based on the effects of an evaluation done in 1986 at his original trial.
McWilliams' defense attorneys have argued that there were procedural errors in the original trial with regard to the late arrival of some psychiatric records, which they say could have made a difference at sentencing.
McWilliams, 60, was convicted and sentenced to death in the 1986 rape and murder of a Tuscaloosa store clerk.
Initial evaluations by a three-member Lunacy Commission concluded that McWilliams was competent to stand trial and that he was a malingerer -- or, in other words, he was faking psychiatric symptoms to appear mentally ill.
The defense's main argument is that additional independent psychiatric tests performed on McWilliams after the Lunacy Commission's, which acknowledged that McWilliams did have some neuropsychological problems, was introduced too late and was not given enough consideration by the court or the jury.
In Alabama in 1986, a minimum of 10 jurors are required to impose a death sentence. In McWilliams' case, the vote was 10-2.
Monday, the high court narrowly voted to reverse the decision of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had rejected McWilliams' appeal based on the psychiatric tests -- and remanded the case back for reassessment.
"When certain threshold criteria are met, the State must provide an indigent defendant with access to a mental health expert who is sufficiently available to the defense and independent from the prosecution," the majority opinion stated Monday.
No execution date has yet been set for McWilliams, which is up to Alabama's attorney general to determine once an inmate's appeals have been exhausted.