September 17, 2012 http://www.delmarvanow.com
DOVER — The Delaware Supreme Court has overturned the death sentence of a taxi driver who murdered a 78-year-old Lewes woman in her home in 2009.
Leslie Small was sentenced last year to death by lethal injection after a Sussex County jury found him guilty of stabbing June McCarson to death with a pair of scissors on the floor of her mobile home, then stealing her Social Security money to buy crack cocaine.
Small’s defense attorneys appealed the decision and argued prosecutors tainted the sentencing process by describing Small’s defenses as “excuses.”
To avoid the death sentence, Small’s lawyers presented a list of mitigating factors for jurors to weigh when deciding if his life should be spared. The factors included Small’s strained relationships with his family, his drug addiction and his HIV-positive status.
The Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution unfairly characterized them as “excuses” several times in remarks to the jury, which could have led jurors to believe the defenses stated by Small’s lawyers were not to be taken seriously.
“A penalty hearing conducted without the prosecutorial misconduct may have led to the jury’s vote being split or in favor of life imprisonment,” wrote Chief Justice Myron T. Steele in an opinion released Tuesday. “Although Delaware law would have permitted the trial judge to impose the death penalty even if the jury had voted differently, we cannot be confident that the trial judge would have done so.”
The Attorney General’s Office would not say if prosecutors will try again for a death sentence.
“Small will, at the very least, remain in prison for the rest of his natural life,” read a statement released by AG spokesman Jason Miller.
“The ultimate decision regarding further sentencing proceedings will be made after a full examination of the matter and discussion with those the closest to Ms. McCarson.”