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Justices rule on staying
death row challenges

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously ruled that federal courts should not automatically suspend post-conviction challenges from death row inmates who are mentally incompetent to help their lawyers. The decision left open the possibility that such suspensions may sometimes be warranted, but it said that they should not be indefinite.

“Where there is no reasonable hope of competence,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court, “a stay is inappropriate.”

In Tuesday’s decision, Thomas wrote that post-conviction challenges are typically based on the court record, meaning that the inmate would have nothing to add even if he were able to work with his lawyers.

“Counsel can generally provide effective representation to a habeas petitioner regardless of the petitioner’s competence,” Thomas wrote, adding that “attorneys are quite capable of reviewing the state-court record, identifying legal errors and marshaling relevant arguments, even without their clients’ assistance.”

—Adam Liptak, The New York Times

Police recall details of horror
at Co

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — The movie theater was a blood-soaked nightmare that night in July. Wounded moviegoers screamed for help and tried to crawl for the exits. Bodies lay in the aisles. The ground was a carpet of shell casings, the air stung with the smell of tear gas and dozens of abandoned cellphones bleated incessantly.

But outside, James E. Holmes stood with eerie calm, his head hidden behind a gas mask and helmet, his hands resting on the roof of his car.

He was, police officers recalled here in court Monday, detached from the chaos he had created moments before. He was sweating heavily underneath a sheath of black body armor. He smelled foul.

For victims and their families, the hearing may offer the best, and perhaps only, opportunity to understand how the July 20 shooting unfolded, and to get a glimpse of Holmes’ actions and mindset in the weeks and minutes before the attack. A criminal trial — if one ever convenes — remains months away, probably at the end of a long series of legal arguments, including over Holmes’ mental fitness to stand trial.

—Jack Healy and Dan Frosch, The New York Times

Chavez swearing-in delayed, Venezuelan official says

CARACAS, Venezuela — Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s cancer-stricken president, will not return from Cuba this week in time to be sworn in for the start of his new term, a top government official said Tuesday, adding that the ceremony could legally take place at a later date.

The constitution sets Jan. 10 as the start of a new presidential term and says the president-elect should be sworn in on that day before the National Assembly.

But Venezuela’s constitution also says that if he cannot be sworn in before the legislature, he can be sworn in before the Supreme Court.

The sentence mentioning the alternate swearing-in does not specify a date, and government officials have said that means Chavez can be sworn in later.

Opposition legislators responded during the raucous session that followed by disputing the government’s interpretation of the constitution.

—William Neuman, The New York Times