A death row inmate who admitted to killing his 2-yearold daughter by setting her on fire will get another chance to avoid execution.
The Arizona Supreme Court unanimously decided Tuesday that Shawn Grell, 31, did not give up his right to a jury sentencing when he waived his right to a jury trial in 2000.
The ruling means the case will return to trial court for a sentencing before a jury, in line with a June 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires juries instead of judges to determine death sentences.
Grell admitted that on Dec. 2, 1999, he picked up his daughter, Kristen Salem, from day care, took her to a fast-food restaurant, bought a gasoline can and drove her to a remote county island between Mesa and Apache Junction.
He said he laid his sleeping daughter down in the dirt, splashed gasoline on her and lit a match.
She woke up and ran around in circles before succumbing.
Grell turned himself in a few hours later. He decided to let Judge Barbara Jarrett of Maricopa County Superior Court decide his guilt rather than a jury. Grell and the state agreed upon a certain set of written facts to present to Jarrett, and she convicted
him of first-degree murder.
At the time, Grell’s attorneys said he agreed to that uncommon procedure in order to spare his daughter’s family the horror of experiencing a prolonged jury trial that would contain graphic photographs and testimony.
The agreement also contained a provision that said he wouldn’t give up any rights he “may have” to a jury sentencing.
Jarrett denied Grell’s request for a jury sentencing, and she condemned him June 2001. But a year later, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Arizona’s law of judges determining death rather than juries unconstitutional.
“Grell’s stipulation was thus not a meaningless reservation of a pipe-dream right,” state Justice Rebecca White Berch wrote in the 52-page ruling.
Grell, whose IQ measures between 65 and 74, also claimed he was mentally
disabled, but the Arizona Supreme Court upheld Jarrett’s evaluation that he wasn’t.