High court denies killer in his latest bid to live

November 17, 1992|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- John "Ace" Booth, a West Baltimore man who has had two death sentences nullified by state or federal courts, failed on his third challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday.

In a brief order, with no explanation, the court cleared the way for Maryland to set an execution date for Booth, who was convicted eight years ago of the stabbing murders of two elderly neighbors during a 1983 robbery of their home.

Although the state is free to start making plans for Booth's execution, any date for that will almost certainly be postponed, according to his lawyer, public defender John L. Kopolow. Booth still has the option of attempting new legal challenges in state and then in federal court, and Mr. Kopolow said "I am sure he nTC will." Those would delay any scheduled execution.

Booth received each of the three death sentences for the murder of Irvin Bronstein, 78. In addition, he was sentenced to life plus 60 years for killing Mr. Bronstein's 75-year-old wife, Rose, and for robbing their home and stealing their car.

The Bronsteins were killed with 12 stab wounds each, after being bound and gagged. Their attackers then stole jewelry, television sets and the Bronsteins' 1972 automobile. The Bronsteins lived two doors away from Booth's home on Rockwood Avenue in West Baltimore.

Maryland's Court of Appeals has ruled four times on Booth's case. At an earlier stage, Booth made constitutional history when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that prosecutors could not attempt to convince juries to impose a death sentence by telling jurors about the impact of the murder on the victim's family.

After Booth had benefited from that decision, because it erased his initial death sentence, the Supreme Court changed its mind last year and ruled that, in future cases, so-called "victim impact evidence" could be used by prosecutors seeking death sentences.

In the meantime, Booth had been given a second death sentence, but the Maryland Court of Appeals nullified that in a 1989 ruling. The case then returned to Baltimore City Circuit Court, and a jury gave him a third death sentence in the summer of 1990.

The third sentence was upheld by Maryland's highest court June 24. The state court rejected all of his challenges. Booth then began pursuing his latest, unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court.

In the new appeal, he argued that the trial judge had denied him the full benefit of evidence that he was intoxicated at the time of the murders, a full chance to tell the jurors about his troubled childhood and his dependency on drugs and alcohol, and a chance to have the jurors impose a life sentence without parole instead of a death penalty.

At his initial trial for the Bronstein murders, Booth based his defense heavily on a claim that a companion during the robbery, Willie "Sweetsie" Reid, had done both of the killings.

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