Supreme Court Upholds Death Penalty Sentence of Convicted Killer

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced today the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the death penalty sentence of convicted killer James McKinney. McKinney brutally murdered Christine Mertens and Jim McClain in their Chandler homes back in 1991.

“Today the Supreme Court supported the administration of justice," said Attorney General Mark Brnovich. "We have an obligation to the victims, their families and our communities to uphold the rule of law and to see that death sentences of convicted murderers are carried out."

McKinney was sentenced to death by a Maricopa County Superior Court judge in 1993. At the time, 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 wanted a judge or jury to impose a death sentence. The Court also ruled that a judge and jury must consider mitigating factors during sentencing.

In 2018, the Arizona Supreme Court weighed the aggravating and mitigating evidence and affirmed McKinney’s death sentence.

In today’s opinion, the Court ruled the Arizona Supreme Court's 2018 review of McKinney’s case was sufficient. Additionally, the Court held that Ring does not require a jury “to weigh the aggravating and mitigating circumstances or to make the ultimate sentencing decision within the relevant sentencing range.” A judge may still do so.

O.H. Skinner, Solicitor General for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, argued the case before the Justices in December 2019.

Copy of Supreme Court opinion.