RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The death sentence of a Virginia man convicted of raping and beating a woman to death in 2008 was overturned Tuesday by a federal appeals court.
Mark Lawlor was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in the killing of Genevieve Orange, a tenant in a Fairfax County apartment complex where Lawlor worked as a leasing agent.
In recommending the death sentence, a jury found that it was likely Lawlor would commit additional violence "that would constitute a continuing serious threat to society."
On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the death sentence. The court found the state court wrongly excluded the testimony of an expert witness who said Lawlor had a very low risk of committing additional violence in prison.
"The Supreme Court has long recognized that a capital sentencing body must be permitted to consider any admissible mitigating information in determining whether to assign the defendant a sentence less than death," Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote for the panel in the unanimous opinion.
The 4th Circuit's ruling reversed the ruling of a federal judge who upheld Lawlor's death sentence. The court sent the case back to that judge "for proceedings consistent with this opinion."
A spokesman for state Attorney General Mark Herring said Herring will review the 4th Circuit's ruling and decide how to proceed.
Herring's legal options include asking for a hearing before the full court or asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.