US Supreme Court Reinstates Death Penalty for Arizona Man Who Murdered Friend Over Gambling Debt

Posted on: December 14, 2020, 10:04h. 

Last updated on: December 14, 2020, 11:39h.

The US Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) on Monday reinstated the death penalty for an Arizona man who was found guilty of murdering his friend in 1994 over a gambling debt.

Supreme Court death row gambling murder
The Supreme Court has put convicted murder George Kayer, seen here, back on death row. (Image: Arizona Corrections/Getty/

A year ago this month, a 2-1 en banc (full panel of judges) order in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the death penalty sentence for George Russell Kayer. The two appellate judges in the majority ruled that Kayer was not afforded effective counsel and that his mental health and addiction problems were not considered when he was found guilty.

Today, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision and put the 66-year-old back on death row.

“Kayer asserts that his death sentence was imposed in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel,” the Supreme Court explained.

Kayer offered evidence that he suffered from bipolar disorder and untreated drinking and gambling addictions at the time of the crime. But reasonable jurists could debate the extent to which these factors significantly impaired his ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the law at the time of the murder,” the ruling continued.

“We vacate the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit,” the majority declared. In the majority were Chief Justice Roberts, as well as Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. Dissenting were Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.

1994 Crime

Twenty-six years ago this month, Kayer, his girlfriend Lisa Kester, and friend Delbert Haas traveled from Arizona to Laughlin, Nev., to gamble.

Kester said Haas lent Kayer money to gamble with while at the casino. Kayer, a gambling addict, lost the money. Kester later turn her boyfriend into the police.

On the drive home, Kayer armed himself with a gun during a stop for beer along I-40 in Kingman, Ariz. Kayer then drove to a remote region in Yavapai County, and when they stopped for the two men to relieve themselves in a wooded area, Kayer shot Haas in the back of the head.

Just minutes after fleeing, Kayer returned to the scene of the shooting to get Haas’ keys that were on him. Haas wasn’t dead, and Kayer shot him again, this time fatally.

Some 10 days later, Kester reported the murder to police, and Kayer was arrested. He was found guilty in March of 1997 of both premeditated and felony murder, trafficking of stolen property, and theft of a firearm.

Debt Unknown

Kayer never revealed just how much money he gambled away that was loaned to him by Haas. But sometimes, even the smallest of debts ends in murder.

Earlier this month, Robert Pulvermacher, 70, pleaded guilty to murdering a man in January of 2019 over a gambling debt of just $100. He stabbed the victim, Harold Johnson, five times, including twice in the neck.

“There’s no reason it happened,” Pulvermacher admitted in court. “It had no logical sense. I’m sorry.”