Court bars use of victim's prior statements at murder trial

Washington_The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a convicted killer deserves a new trial because jurors heard testimony that should have been excluded. His ex-girlfriend made the statements shortly before he killed her.

The justices, in a 6-3 vote, reaffirmed the rights of criminal defendants to confront witnesses against them, even in cases where the defendant is responsible for the witness' absence.

The issue arose in the case of Dwayne Giles, arrested in the shooting death of Brenda Avie in 2002, several weeks after she told police that Giles had assaulted her and threatened to kill her.

Justice Antonin Scalia said in his majority opinion that domestic violence, though "an intolerable offense," does not justify "abridging the rights of criminal defendants."

In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said the court should have ruled that defendants forfeit their constitutional right to confront witnesses when they are responsible for the witness' absence from trial. Wednesday's ruling, Breyer said, "grants the defendant not fair treatment, but a windfall."

Domestic violence experts said they feared a ruling for Giles would dissuade victims from going to authorities and make it harder to convict offenders.

The ruling does not alter the admissibility of a victim's prior statements when a defendant kills someone to prevent him from testifying. In that case, the earlier statements may be used.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.