A convicted murderer could be released from prison after 11 years because of a ruling on Friday that found it was wrong for family members of his victim to wear badges with an image of the victim during his trial.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued the ruling following a review of the case of Mathew Musladin, who was sentenced to life without parole in the 1994 murder of Tom Studer, his estranged wife's fiancÚ.
The decision means that county officials must decide whether to retry the case or to allow Mr. Musladin to go free, his lawyer, David Fermino, said.
During Mr. Musladin's trial, three of Mr. Studer's family members wore buttons bearing his image within clear sight of the jury. The appellate court ruled that the images had a prejudicial impact.
"Here, the direct link between the buttons, the spectators wearing the buttons, the defendant, and the crime that the defendant allegedly committed was clear and unmistakable," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the three-judge appellate court panel. "A reasonable jurist would be compelled to conclude that the buttons worn by Studer's family members conveyed the message that the defendant was guilty."
One of the three judges dissented.