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The Supreme Court appeared likely Tuesday to order a new court hearing for an Alabama death row inmate who lost the chance to appeal his death sentence because of a mailroom mix-up at a venerable New York law firm.

Both conservative and liberal justices indicated they would throw out a federal appeals court ruling that relied on the missed deadline to refuse to consider Cory Maples' claims that he received inadequate legal representation, dating back to his trial on charges he gunned down two friends in 1995.

Justice Samuel Alito, a former federal prosecutor, said he did not understand why Alabama fought so hard to deny Maples the right to appeal when the deadline passed "though no fault of his own."

Justice Antonin Scalia was the only member of the court who appeared to agree with the state's argument that Maples' protests are overblown because he was never left without a lawyer. The state also says the role of Maples' lawyers in missing the deadline is unfortunate but nothing the court should correct under its earlier rulings.

Gregory Garre, a former solicitor general who is representing Maples in the Supreme Court, said the earlier legal work for Maples was so bad that it violated the Constitution.

Whatever the shortcomings of Maples' trial lawyers, he appeared to "win the lottery" when two lawyers at Sullivan and Cromwell agreed to represent him for free in his appeals, Garre said. The New York-based firm has 800 lawyers and offices in a dozen cities.

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