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Appeal arguments focus on instructions in capital case

Sentencing instructions for a man facing the death penalty had the attention of the Supreme Court of Virginia yesterday.

According to the Associated Press, the jury that convicted Alfredo R. Prieto of the 1988 slayings of a young couple was allegedly given unconstitutional verdict forms.

Attorney Michael A. Siem argued that the forms failed to provide an option for the jury to sentence Prieto to life without parole, even if it found he was eligible for the death penalty because the crimes were vile or because Prieto would pose a danger to the public.

Matthew P. Dullaghan, the attorney for the commonwealth, said the trial judge made it clear that Prieto could be sentenced to life even if he was found death-eligible. But the forms did not specifically address whether the jury found unanimously that one or both of the aggravating factors existed.

Several justices pointed to court rulings that explicitly require that option on the jury forms.

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