Court to rule on death sentence for neo-Nazi

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court decided Monday it will take a new look at whether a neo-Nazi convicted of murdering three men in Ohio should be sentenced to death.

The justices said they will hear the state's plea to reinstate the death sentence for Frank Spisak in arguments scheduled for the fall.

Spisak, a self-described neo-Nazi, was convicted in the shooting deaths of the three men at the Cleveland State University campus over a seven-month period in 1982.

The federal appeals court in Cincinnati has twice ordered a new sentencing hearing for Spisak, saying he received ineffective counsel during the sentencing phase of his trial and a judge's instructions to the jury were unconstitutional.

In 2007, the justices reinstated Spisak's death sentence in a ruling that chastised federal appeals courts for second-guessing the decisions of trial judges in murder cases.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, acting after the Supreme Court ruling, reached the same conclusion it did the first time and threw out Spisak's death sentence.

One of the issues before the court is whether Ohio's jury instructions at the time properly informed juries that a single vote against the death penalty would result in a life sentence instead, said Michael Benza, one of Spisak's attorneys.

Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray planned a statement later Monday, said spokeswoman Holly Hollingsworth.

Spisak's trial in June 1983 turned into a racially and sexually charged public spectacle in which he grew an Adolf Hitler-style mustache and carried a copy of Hitler's book "Mein Kampf." He said he was an agent of God in a war against blacks and Jews.

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The case is Smith v. Spisak, 08-724.

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