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McVay death sentence will get automatic review

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — The death sentence for a man accused of killing a Sioux Falls hospice nurse as part of a plot to assassinate President Barack Obama will get an automatic review by the state Supreme Court, South Dakota's attorney general said Tuesday.

Jurors on Monday sentenced James McVay to death for killing 75-year-old Maybelle Schein in July 2011 as part of a plan to steal her car and drive to Washington. McVay, 43, pleaded guilty but mentally ill to a murder charge in 2012.

The state Supreme Court considers three issues in such appeals, Attorney General Marty Jackley said. They include whether the sentence was affected by passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor; whether the evidence supports the jury's or judge's finding of a statutory aggravating circumstance and whether the sentence of death is out of line with the penalty imposed in other, similar cases.

McVay's defense attorneys have 30 days to appeal the case for the justices to consider additional issues. Messages left Tuesday for Minnehaha County Public Defenders Traci Smith and Amber Eggert were not immediately returned.

Authorities said McVay walked away from a minimum-security prison and was mixing cough syrup and alcohol when he killed Schein and stole her car. Prosecutors said Schein was stabbed nine times and bled to death within 16 seconds of the final blow.

At trial, Dr. Michael Farnsworth testified for the defense that McVay suffered from delusional disorder and would often experience substance-induced psychosis. McVay told Farnsworth that when he took dextromethorphan-based cough syrup, he would hear the "voice of God" speaking to him.

But Farnsworth also testified that McVay is not insane and understands right from wrong.

McVay is the first person to be put on South Dakota's death row after pleading guilty but mentally ill, but mentally ill defendants have been executed in other states.

Florida in 2013 executed John Errol Ferguson, a 65-year-old man convicted of killing eight people. The Florida Supreme Court upheld findings by a team of psychiatrists appointed by the state that Ferguson was legally competent to be executed even though he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

The American Bar Association passed a resolution in 2006 recommending that jurisdictions that impose capital punishment refrain from death sentences when a defendant has a severe mental disorder. The resolution applied to a disorder or disability that significantly impairs someone's ability to understand what they are doing is wrong.

Friends and family of Schein said the death sentence was justice.

Marge Anderson, Schein's friend, said the jury's decision should make the public feel safer. She also said she hopes people will remember Schein for the woman she was — not as a woman who was brutally murdered.

"She was a contributor to society, she had so many friends, she was a role model to her family, she was just a great gal and I hope everybody will remember her that way," Anderson said.