State High Court Upholds Death Penalty

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    Erven Blacksher has been living on death row for 15 years.

    The California Supreme Court unanimously upheld the death  penalty of a Berkeley man who fatally shot his sister and her son after a  series of arguments.
        Erven Blacksher, now 46, was convicted in Alameda County Superior  Court in 1998 of the first-degree murder of his nephew, Torey Lee, 21, and  the second-degree murder of his sister, Versenia Lee, 46, on May 11, 1995.

        He was sentenced to death the following year on the basis of a  jury finding of a special circumstance of multiple murders.     The victims were living at the home of Blacksher's and Lee's  mother, Eva Blacksher, in West Berkeley.
         Erven Blacksher, the youngest of eight siblings, had moved to a  back cottage on the property to enable his sister to live in the house while  taking care of their mother.
        According to testimony at the trial, the early-morning shootings  came after several days of arguments between Blacksher and his nephew.
        Other family members testified Blacksher told them he planned to  get a gun and kill his nephew because of the young man's alleged cocaine  dealing and disrespect toward him and Eva Blacksher.
        Blacksher, who had previously been hospitalized several times for  episodes of mental illness, argued at the guilt phase of his trial that he  lacked the ability to form an intent to murder because he suffered from  paranoid schizophrenia.
        He also argued in a separate sanity phase of trial that he was  insane at the time of the shootings.
        But the jury rejected both those arguments.
        In today's decision, issued in San Francisco and written by  Justice Carol Corrigan, the state high court rejected a series of appeal  claims in which Blacksher challenged evidence rulings and jury instructions  at his trial.
        Blacksher can continue appeals through habeas corpus petitions in  the state and federal court systems.