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Tucson Policeman’s Killer Could go From Death Row to Life in Prison

A man convicted of killing a Tucson police officer is off Arizona’s death row after a ruling earlier this year by the Supreme Court that he’s entitled to be resentenced. And Pima County Attorney Laura Conover has to decide this month whether to try to get John Montenegro Cruz back on death row or keep him behind bars for life.

The Supreme Court ruled Cruz should be resentenced because jurors in his case were wrongly told that the only way to ensure he would never walk free was to sentence him to death when a life without parole sentence was an option. A Pima County Superior Court judge last month vacated the original death sentence.

Conover says that this time around her office is determined to follow the law.

“Both the Attorney General and the Pima County Attorney’s Office are required to follow orders of the United States Supreme Court,” she wrote in response to claims made to the media by Michael Storie, the Hardesty’s attorney. “So, when the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the State’s previous position was in error, the State followed the instructions of the Supreme Court.”

Cruz was convicted of the 2003 murder of a Tucson police officer Patrick Hardesty. Hardesty and another officer were investigating a hit-and-run crash that led them to Cruz, who attempted to flee and shot Hardesty five times. Conover has to decide before the end of the month if Cruz should be sentenced to death for his crime.

Before then, Conover said, she will speak to the Hardesty family about the sentencing as is required by l According to Conover, the victims have been invited to have that meeting and that the family attorney, Mike Storie, has been contacted by phone and email in an effort to make that happen.

Any allegations that her office has ignored the victim’s family are false, Conover says. Neither Storie, the Hardesty’s attorney, nor the attorney for Cruz. Responded to phone calls for reaction. The Supreme Court ruling noted that at least one juror who voted to sentence Cruz to death has said that had she known that a “life sentence without parole” was an alternative to death, she “would have voted for that option.”

Brick Storts, the trial attorney for Cruz, said it’s about time the error made 20 years ago be rectified.

Storts said he was the initial catalyst to this turn of events, having raised the sentencing issue long ago. Storts said he “felt very strongly” about the state’s error when he tried the case, knowing jurors had been made to think that the only sentence that would keep Cruz off the streets forever was a sentence of death.

In reality, Cruz could have been given life without parole and would never leave the prison grounds until it’s time for him to be buried, Storts said. According to Storts, who said he hasn’t followed the case much since he defended Cruz in court, the high court’s ruling was a welcome surprise. He was more surprised to be quoted in the court’s opinion.

“I didn’t want him to get the death penalty,” he said. Now, Storts might get to see that happen, ending a saga that he started two decades ago.

Whatever is decided, Conover said, will be dictated by the law.

“The change in the State’s position was ordered by the United States Supreme Court,” she wrote in her statement. “Both the Attorney General and the Pima County Attorney are required to follow the dictates of the Supreme Court.”

Source: Tucson.com