Bid to revive death penalty bid against immigrant fails

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PHOENIX (AP) – The Arizona Court of Appeals has declined to revive an effort to seek the death penalty against a Mexican immigrant charged in the 2015 killing of a convenience store clerk during a robbery in metro Phoenix.

Prosecutors asked the appeals court to reverse a lower court ruling that dismissed the state’s intent to seek the death penalty against Apolinar Altamirano and concluded his intellectual deficits affected his ability to meet the standard of personal independence and social responsibility for a person of his age and cultural background.

In the appeals court decision Friday, a judge said the case file seems replete with evidence that Altamirano was able to meet that standard, but also noted conflicting evidence. The appeals court deferred to the lower court judge’s conclusions on the credibility of the evidence.

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel’s office, which is prosecuting Altamirano, said it’s reviewing the decision to determine whether it will file an appeal.

Altamirano is accused of fatally shooting Grant Ronnebeck, a 21-year-old clerk at a Mesa convenience store, after Ronnebeck insisted that Altamirano pay for a pack of cigarettes. Authorities say Altamirano stepped over Ronnebeck to get several packs of cigarettes before leaving the store.

Altamirano has pleaded not guilty to murder, robbery and other charges in Ronnebeck’s death. Altamirano has already been sentenced to six years in prison for separate guilty pleas in the case and misconduct involving weapons.

Altamirano is a citizen of Mexico who has lived in the U.S. without authorization for about 20 years. He has been deported and returned to the U.S. in the past. Then-President Donald Trump repeatedly cited Altamirano’s case as an example of crimes committed by immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.

A judge first dismissed the effort to seek the death penalty in 2019 after concluding that Altamirano was intellectually disabled. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 barred the execution of intellectually disabled people.

Last summer, the Arizona Supreme Court reversed that decision, ruling the lower court judge correctly considered the strengths and weaknesses of Altamirano’s life skills, but failed to assess his ability to meet society’s expectations of him and sent the issue back to the lower court to consider.

Late last year, the judge dismissed the state’s death penalty bid again, finding that Altamirano’s intellectual deficits affected his ability to meet the standard of personal independence and social responsibility.

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