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The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal of a convicted murderer from Ohio Thursday because he filed it two days late, even though he met a separate deadline set by a judge.

The judge mistakenly told the prisoner, Keith Bowles, 34, that he could file court papers by Feb. 27, 2004. Under federal rules, however, the deadline was Feb. 24. Bowles filed on Feb. 26.

The high court typically adheres strictly to deadlines and this case was no exception.

The 5-4 decision, the 16th this term, fell along conservative-liberal lines and also provoked a strong dissent from Justice David Souter.

Writing the opinion for the court's majority in this case, Justice Clarence Thomas said the judge's error did not alter the 14-day time limit set in federal law and legal rules. He said Congress could relax the deadline if it wishes.

Bowles was convicted of murder in Ohio for his role in a group beating of an unarmed man, who later died. The beating was in revenge for an earlier beating that day to a relative of a member of the group in Painesville, about 30 miles northeast of Cleveland, court records showed.

Bowles was given 15 years to life in prison. Early in 2004, a federal judge gave Bowles additional time to tell the court he intended to appeal, mistakenly noting a 17-day deadline.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Bowles' appeal was untimely.

Souter said Bowles' case cries out for an exception to the rule.

"It is intolerable for the judicial system to treat people this way, and there is not even a technical justification for condoning this bait and switch," Souter said.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia joined Thomas' opinion.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens joined Souter in dissent.


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