The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday overturned the death sentence of Virginia death row inmate Lem D. Tuggle Jr., one of six prisoners who escaped from Mecklenburg Correctional Center a year ago in the biggest death row breakout in U.S. history.

The justices ordered the Virginia Supreme Court to reconsider Tuggle's sentence in view of their recent decision giving penniless defendants in capital murder cases the right to evaluations by court-appointed psychiatrists.

Tuggle was convicted of the May 29, 1983, rape and shooting death of Jessie Geneva Havens, whom he met at a dance at the Smyth County American Legion lodge.

Last summer Tuggle, 33, took authorities on a multistate manhunt after the Mecklenburg escape. He was arrested a week later in Vermont where he greeted police with: "I'm Lem, and I'm wanted in Virginia."

In two other Virginia cases, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal of one death row inmate while rejecting the appeal of another prisoner sentenced to die.

The court, using the case of Willie Lloyd Turner, agreed to consider the issue of whether defendants facing the death penalty have a right to question potential jurors about racial biases. Turner's attorneys have argued their client was denied the right to a fair trial because the judge refused to allow them to question jurors about possible racial prejudice.

Turner, who is black, was convicted of the July 1978 murder and robbery of W. Jack Smith, a white jeweler in the southern Virginia town of Franklin.

The court refused to hear the appeal of condemned murderer Earl Washington Jr., a farm laborer who was convicted of the June 4, 1982, slaying of Rebecca Lynn Williams, a 19-year-old mother of three who was stabbed numerous times at her Culpeper home.