Judge reverses Philadelphia man's death sentence

A federal judge canceled a murderer's death sentence after concluding the man had ineffective counsel and that the jury had received the wrong instructions.

Kelvin Morris, 47, was sentenced to death in 1987 for fatally shooting the manager of an auto-parts store during a robbery attempt. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the sentence in 1989, saying the evidence against Morris was "overwhelming."

But U.S. District Judge Joseph Rodriguez ruled Wednesday that Morris' attorney was ineffective in investigating and presenting circumstances, such an abusive childhood, mental illness and brain damage, that could have kept Morris off death row.

The decision represents the 200th time a Pennsylvania death sentence has been overturned since the reinstatement of capital punishment in the state in 1978, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

The judge also found that the trial judge gave jurors improper instructions, leaving them with the mistaken impression that they had be unanimous in finding a mitigating circumstance.

Rodriguez also ordered a hearing to determine whether Morris' trial lawyer had a conflict of interest. The lawyer was representing Morris at the same time he was representing Morris' brother, Artie, in a civil case. Several witnesses had identified Artie Morris as the shooter in the McDonald case, Rodriguez wrote.