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Feb 9, 5:58 PM EST

Supreme Court upholds murder conviction but orders new appeal

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The Supreme Court upheld two of a triple killer's murder convictions Thursday but ruled that he is entitled to seek a trial court determination on whether his execution should be barred due to mental retardation.

The justices unanimously rejected a third appeal by Frank Walls, 38, for killing Edward Alger and Ann Peterson while robbing the couple at their mobile home near Fort Walton Beach in 1987. Both were shot and Alger's throat also was slashed.

Walls was sentenced to death for killing Peterson and life in prison for Alger's murder. He is serving another life term in a separate case for the 1987 stabbing death of Audrey Gygi, also in Okaloosa County, and was a suspect in at least two other Florida Panhandle slayings.

The Supreme Court in 1991 set aside his initial convictions for the Alger and Peterson murders because jurors heard tainted evidence obtained by a jailer who had tricked Walls into talking by assuring him his comments would remain confidential. She also told him not to disclose their conversations to his lawyer.

Walls was again convicted and received the same sentences at a second trial - results upheld by the state justices and the U.S. Supreme Court. Thursday's ruling came in a post-conviction appeal.

In sentencing after the second trial, a judge found that Walls suffers from brain dysfunction and damage and functions at the level of a 12-year-old, but ruled that was insufficient to bar his execution.

Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court has banned the execution of mentally retarded people, but left it up to states to develop their own systems to ensure such inmates are not put to death. Retardation is generally defined as an IQ of 70 or lower.

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