The Supreme Court issued a series of final rulings along with orders on new cases yesterday. These were some of the results:
Inmates' rights: The court refused, by unanimous vote, to reinstate a $20 million lawsuit filed against the federal government by a prison inmate who claimed he caught hepatitis from another inmate during government health experiments. The court ruled that the Illinois inmate failed to take his case first to the Public Health Service, so he could not sue the government directly.
Open courts: The court reaffirmed, in an unsigned opinion, the constitutional duty of U.S. states and territories to allow the public and the press to observe pretrial hearings in criminal cases. Rejecting an attempt by Puerto Rico's Supreme Court to keep such hearings secret in that territory, the court stressed that no U.S. jurisdiction may close criminal courts simply to protect the privacy rights of individuals facing prosecution.
Maryland murder: For the second time in the past eight years, the court refused to review the Maryland murder conviction and death penalty of Donald Thomas, convicted of murdering an Arbutus couple, Donald and Sarah Ann Spurling, in their home on Chelwynd Road in 1981, and of raping a student who rented a room from the Spurlings. Thomas claims that his defense lawyer wrongly allowed him to be questioned by a psychiatrist for the prosecution.
Execution method: By a vote of 5-4, the court refused to reinstate a lawsuit by death row inmates in Virginia claiming that it is unconstitutional to execute murderers by using the electric chair. Some 12 states now allow the use of electrocution as an execution method. The court upheld that method in 1890.
Trespassers' rights: The court, without comment, left intact an Illinois Supreme Court ruling that property owners have a legal duty to protect trespassers from dangerous conditions on the property. The case involved a man who, while drunk, wandered onto the Chicago Transit Authority's tracks and electrocuted himself by urinating on the 600-volt third rail.