(CN) - The Supreme Court on Thursday gave a death row inmate a third chance to avoid execution for fatally shooting a sheriff in 1979, ruling that Billy Joe Magwood can argue that Alabama retroactively changed its laws to make his crime qualify for the death penalty.
Magwood was sentenced to die twice for the death of Coffee County Sheriff Neil Grantham, whom Magwood targeted after he served time on drug charges.
Magwood became convinced that Grantham jailed him without cause and vowed revenge. On the morning of March 1, 1979, he parked outside the jail and waited for the sheriff to arrive. When Grantham got out of his car, Magwood shot him and fled the scene.
Magwood twice challenged the death sentences, and both times he was spared.
On his third attempt, Magwood complained that lawmakers changed the law so that he qualified for execution.
But the 11th Circuit said Magwood didn't bring up his retroactive complaints in his first round of appeals and therefore couldn't bring it up now.
The Supreme Court overturned that ruling.