February 18, 1997 -- Olympia -- Attorney General Christine Gregoire said today she is disappointed the U.S Supreme Court refused to review a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling which overturned the death sentence of convicted double-murderer Mitchell Rupe.
Last year, the Ninth Circuit upheld a federal judge's ruling to overturn Rupe's death sentence for the murders of two Olympia bank tellers during a 1981 armed robbery. The Court found that Rupe's constitutional rights were violated during the second sentencing hearing when the polygraph test results of a prosecution witness were not admitted.
"We believe the Ninth Circuit incorrectly determined the state trial court was required to admit the polygraph evidence during Rupe's second sentencing hearing," said Gregoire.
Gregoire said the Thurston County Prosecutor's Office will now have to decide whether to hold a third sentencing hearing for Rupe.
"I think people of Washington are going to be very frustrated with this case," Gregoire said. "It's difficult for people to understand why, ten years after his conviction, Rupe is entitled to yet another sentencing hearing."
In his original Thurston County Superior Court trial, Rupe sought to admit the results of the polygraph as mitigating evidence. After the test's administrator indicated the results were unreliable, the judge denied Rupe's request. That decision was upheld by the State Supreme Court, and neither Rupe nor the prosecution sought admission of the test results in Rupe's second sentencing hearing in 1985.
However, more than ten years after the State Supreme Court ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly and the Ninth Circuit ruled that the polygraph results should have been admitted and set aside Rupe's death sentence.
"The Supreme Court's decision does not necessarily mean Mitchell Rupe will escape the death penalty," said Gregoire. "He is a convicted murderer, and can still be sentenced to death at a new hearing."
If Thurston County decides against a new sentencing hearing, Rupe will automatically serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole.