Death sentence reversed because lawyer made no arguments against it, Tenn.

March 23, 2001
(MEMPHIS) – A Vietnam Veteran who has spent almost two decades on Tennessee’s death row for killing an elderly couple has been granted a new penalty hearing because his lawyer failed to make any argument to the jury on why his life should be spared.

A federal appeals court called the lawyer’s strategy “non-representation of the most deadly sort,” suggesting it allowed jurors to think that even his own counsel thought Gary Bradford Cone deserved to die. On Thursday, the three-judge panel ordered the state to give Cone a new hearing within six months, finding that he would otherwise get an automatic life sentence.

Cone was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982. During the trial, lawyer John Dice argued that Cone’s responsibility for the crime was diminished by his heavy drug use. But Dice presented no witnesses and made no argument in the penalty phase.

Dice, who has since died, testified during an earlier appeal that he thought arguing for his client would open the door to prosecution arguments that would clinch a death sentence.

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