VIDEO: Rewind: Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

ABC World News Tonight Oct 12, 1990
3:00 | 10/03/12

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Transcript for VIDEO: Rewind: Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
A justice of the US Supreme Court appears to be caught -- ethical dilemma the justices Sandra Day O'Connor. The case involves a man in Louisiana who was appealing his death sentence to the High Court. Here's our law correspondent Tim O'Brien. Michael Perry a paranoid schizophrenic has been sentenced to the electric chair for the shotgun murders of five members of his family in Louisiana. At the murder scene police found what they believe was a hit list of other potential victims. Which included the name judge O'Connor. Three weeks later Perry was arrested at this hotel in Washington DC investigators say he had come to Washington to assassinate the Supreme Court justice. Michael Perry had said that he believed that no woman should be in a place that high and that he pursued her for that reason. Gavin de Becker a private security consultant got involved because -- -- threatened pop star Olivia Newton-John one of his clients. To -- shared its information with court officials. I have no doubt whatsoever that he posed a substantial danger to my clients in the matter who -- media figures and two with Sandra Day O'Connor and I worked with her office in the weeks. Prior to his arrest and I think we all -- -- very seriously. No one could have guessed in 1983 that Perry's case would come before the Supreme Court. But it did last week. Justice O'Connor participated fully when the court heard arguments over whether Perry could be forcibly injected with anti psychotic drugs. To make him mentally competent to be executed. -- participation raises an ethical question if the justices aware that her life may have been endangered by a convicted murderer. Should she be deciding whether that murderer goes to the electric chair. In a statement to ABC news the justice said she was unaware of any threat posed by mr. Perry. Yes you -- the wherever. But Gavin de Becker of the private investigator said O'Connor had to be aware in 1983 when she said -- this thank you know. Unfortunately there are people that -- -- who are sufficiently unstable to constitute genuine threats to the safety of others. I am very grateful for the information you shared concerning Michael Perry you have helped to prevent what could have been a serious problem. Signed -- O'Connor. Even if justice O'Connor does not remember the specifics professor Paul Rothstein who teaches legal ethics at Georgetown law school. Says it is important to avoid the appearance of impropriety. -- -- better part of wisdom in this case. Would be to not participate and to the -- -- has already participated. To withdraw their participation. And -- just the other justices decide the case. O'Connor has no legal obligation to withdraw and she has a reputation for being fair and impartial. But even some of the justices we'll tell you that being fair and impartial is easy -- fair and impartial is often more difficult. Tim O'Brien ABC news at the Supreme Court.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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