The death sentence for an Arizona prisoner who killed his cellmate was thrown out Monday after the state Supreme Court concluded a judge had failed to tell jurors during the penalty phase of his trial that he was ineligible for parole.
The state’s highest court upheld the conviction of Jasper Phillip Rushing in the September 2010 attack on Shannon Palmer at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis in Buckeye. But the Supreme Court is sending Rushing’s case back to Maricopa County Superior Court for a sentencing retrial.
The lower-court judge told jurors after Rushing’s conviction — but before his sentencing phase — that if they decided on a life sentence, then the judge would sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of release or life with the possibility of release after serving 25 years.
The same jury instruction wasn’t made during the penalty phase.
The ruling said Rushing didn’t dispute at trial that he killed Palmer. The trial instead focused on whether it was a premeditated killing.
Rushing beat Palmer and used a razor blade to cut his neck and sever his penis, authorities say.
The 40-year-old Palmer, who died on the way to the hospital, was serving a three-year sentence for a 2009 criminal damage conviction in Maricopa County.
Rushing, now 37, was already in prison for a 2001 murder conviction in the January 2001 shooting death of his stepfather in Yavapai County.