COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) — The South Carolina Supreme Court has ruled against a death row inmate who was asking for his execution sentence to be overturned.
The decision, published on Wednesday, comes from a case that was heard on May 5.
Richard Bernard Moore was convicted of shooting and killing James Mahoney, a store clerk at Nikki’s Speedy mart in Spartanburg, during an armed robbery in Sept. 1999. A witness at the trial testified that they saw Moore enter the store, then shot at them. The witness dropped to the floor and played dead. Mahoney was then shot in the chest.
Moore left the store and was later found with $1,408 from the store. The prosecution said during the trial that he had taken the money because he wanted to buy crack cocaine.
There was no evidence that Moore entered the store with a gun. In an application for post-conviction relief, Moore claimed that he received ineffective assistance of council at his trial, and that Mahoney was the aggressor, and that he’d taken the gun during a struggle with the clerk and fired “blindly.” Moore said that he was short on change that night, asked if he could use money from the change cup on the counter, and that Mahoney refused and pulled a gun when Moore refused to leave the business.
A judge found those claims were “without merit.” In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court denied his petition for review.
Moore’s petition for writ of habeas corpus claims that the death sentence is disproportionate to penalties imposed for similar crimes.
Moore’s claim was that the comparative proportionality review was “inadequate,” and that the review was “insufficient” because three of the four death sentences cited have since been overturned.
“We find this point unavailing as none of the cases were overturned for a reason that influenced any part of the Court’s analysis…” according to Beatty’s opinion. In one case, the defendant was exempt from capital punishment because of his mental status.
Moore argued that the pool of cases should be expanded beyond those that included a death sentence. The court agree that South Carolina law does not “expressly limit” that pool to only death penalty ones.
Beatty wrote that whether the South Carolina Supreme Court would impose a death sentence is not within the scope of its review. Instead, it had to decide if the jury’s decision was arbitrary. He also wrote that the court is not legally required to limit its pool for similar cases to review to only death penalty cases.
The dissenting opinion, written by Justice Kaye Hearn, wrote that the court has not found a single death sentence disproportionate to sentences imposed for similar crimes since its first comparative proportionality review was done in 1977. That includes 43 people executed during that time.
“I write separately to express my view that our system is broken and to disagree with that part of the majority opinion which finds Petitioner Richard Moore’s sentence proportionate to his crime,” Hearn wrote.
She wrote that she doesn’t believe the sentence is legal and that Moore’s argument is warranted.
Although he’s “unquestionably guilty,” she wrote that “Moore’s death sentence is a relic of a bygone era, where he was convicted by a jury comprised of eleven Caucasians and one Hispanic.”