Joseph Kindler, a notorious Northeast Philadelphia man convicted of kidnapping and bashing an accomplice with a baseball bat and drowning him in 1982, may die by injection after all.
Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower-court ruling that had thrown out the death sentence for Kindler, who escaped from the Philadelphia Detention Center in 1984, was caught in Quebec, and while awaiting extradition, escaped again from a Montreal prison a year later.
On Sept. 6, 1988, Kindler, then 30, was captured in St. John, New Brunswick, three days after he was featured on "America's Most Wanted."
At issue before the high court was whether a federal appellate judge could disregard state procedural rules in a review of the case. Attorneys general in Pennsylvania and 25 other states joined the lawsuit.
A Philadelphia jury had found Kindler guilty of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances and set the penalty at death for killing accomplice David Bernstein, 22, who had planned to testify against him in a burglary case.
Bernstein was alive when tossed in the Delaware River with a piece of concrete block tied around his neck. He was found the day he was scheduled to testify against Kindler about the burglary, which netted $100,000 worth of electronics equipment, jewelry and art stored at Kindler's apartment.
Before sentencing, Kindler had filed post-verdict claims about jury instructions, then escaped from prison. Upon his return, he tried to reinstate the claims.
But the trial judge, Common Pleas Judge John A. Geisz, ruled that Kindler had forfeited his claims when he escaped. The state Supreme Court upheld Kindler's conviction and declined to review his post-verdict claims.
The Philadelphia-based U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals disregarded the state-court ruling, finding that Kindler's lawyer was ineffective at sentencing and that there were problems with the jury instructions.
Chief Justice John Roberts said in yesterday's ruling that the state-court decision must be taken into consideration by the federal courts.
"We hold that a discretionary state procedural rule can serve as an adequate ground to bar" federal review, Roberts said.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a separate opinion, said that he agreed with the state court's decision that Kindler's escapes forfeited his right to be heard on his appeals.