COLUMBIA, S.C. — A man condemned to death is getting a new sentencing trial after South Carolina’s highest court ruled Monday that prosecutors should not have likened the Muslim man to terrorists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11.
In October 2003, a Myrtle Beach jury found Angle Joe Perrie Vasquez, 31, guilty in the March 2002 shooting deaths of Kuma Walker and Joseph Williams, who had fired Vasquez for using profanity in front of customers and another employee.
Later that day, authorities said Vasquez and another man returned to the restaurant and shot both men in the head multiple times. Another worker found the men’s bodies inside the restaurant’s cooler.
During the sentencing phase of the trial – which happened over the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks – Solicitor Greg Hembree talked extensively about the tragic impact of the attacks and called Vasquez, a Muslim who wore a prayer cap during his trial, a “domestic terrorist.”
Vasquez was subsequently sentenced to death. But on Monday, the high court granted Vasquez’s request for a new sentencing hearing, writing that Hembree’s comments compromised the defendant’s case and that defense attorneys should have objected to them.
“We hold the solicitor’s comments so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting death sentence a denial of due process,” Justice Don Beatty wrote in the 14-page opinion.
Chief Justice Jean Toal dissented in a separate opinion, writing that Hembree only commented about terrorism in general, not as it related to Vasquez.
“During his speech, the solicitor mentioned September 11, 2001, as a tragic, life-changing historical event,” Toal wrote. “He did not call attention to any racial or religious aspect of that event, and he did not liken Petitioner to the attackers.
A new sentencing hearing has not been set. Vasquez’s appellate attorney said he was pleased with the court’s decision.
“We hope that Mr. Vasquez will now receive a fair sentencing hearing based on the evidence, not his religious beliefs,” Joseph Savitz said Monday.
Absurd. Using the Islam-card whenever and wherever they can, despite the evidence and brutality of the crime.