Arizona Attorney General’s Office Argues at U.S. Supreme Court to Uphold Death Penalty Sentence of Convicted Killer

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Arizona Attorney General’s Office argued to uphold the death penalty sentence for James McKinney before the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday morning. In 1991, McKinney and his half-brother murdered Christine Mertens and Jim McClain in their Chandler homes during two separate robberies.

“It’s been nearly three decades since McKinney brutally murdered two innocent Arizonans,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich. “This is another attempt by a convicted killer to delay accepting responsibility for his heinous crimes. We must remember the victims and their families. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

McKinney was sentenced to death by a Maricopa County Superior Court judge in 1993 when the law allowed judges to sentence convicted defendants to death. In 2002, in its Ring decision, the U.S. Supreme Court permitted defendants to choose whether they want a judge or jury to impose a death sentence. Later, the Court emphasized that Ring would not apply retroactively to sentences rendered pre-Ring.

In 2018, the Arizona Supreme Court affirmed his death sentence and determined that it could conduct an independent review of McKinney’s conviction without a full resentencing.

O.H. Skinner, Solicitor General for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, argued the case before the Justices this morning.

The Court could affirm the sentence without sending it back to a jury to begin decades of new appeals. A decision is expected next year.