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Court clears way for release, or retrial, of alleged Skid Row Stabber

January 9, 2012 |  9:41 am

Bobby Joe Maxwell

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the Skid Row Stabber case Monday, denying California’s bid to reinstate the suspected killer’s murder convictions.

The court’s order leaves intact a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Bobby Joe Maxwell’s 1984 convictions, finding the jailhouse informant who was the prosecution’s chief witness was a habitual liar with "a long and public history of dishonesty."

Maxwell was convicted of two of 10 slayings in 1978 and 1979 dubbed the Skid Row Stabber killings and was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. He has spent more than half of his life behind bars since his arrest in 1979.

The high court's order clears the way for the state to release him or bring a new trial.

Maxwell was convicted based on the testimony of Sidney Storch, a jailhouse informant used by prosecutors in dozens of murder cases. Storch testified Maxwell had confessed to the murders when the two shared a cell.

Storch, the Ninth Circuit panel found, perjured himself in exchange for reduced sentences and other considerations.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito dissented from the decision, writing that there was “ample other evidence of Maxwell’s guilt” besides Storch’s testimony and that the Ninth Circuit had overreached.

“It is a regrettable reality that some federal judges like to second-guess state courts,” Scalia wrote in his dissent. “Today we have shrunk, letting stand a judgment that once again deprives California courts of that control over the state’s administration of criminal justice which federal law assures.”

Supporting the Supreme Court’s decision, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that there was “powerful evidence” supporting Maxwell’s claim that Storch had lied about his confession.

RELATED:

Supreme Court allows reversal of 'Skid Row Stabber' convictions

Appeals court overturns murder convictions of alleged L.A. serial killer

California may curb use of unsupported jailhouse testimony

-- Victoria Kim
twitter.com/vicjkim

Photo: Bobby Joe Maxwell reacts as a jury convicts him in 1984. Credit: Marsha Traeger / Los Angeles Times

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