A panel of federal judges today overturned the death sentence of a man who was the first person sentenced to execution by the United States under a 1988 federal drug law.

The United States has not executed anyone in 36 years.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2 to 1 that David Ronald Chandler of Piedmont, Ala., was not properly defended by his attorney during his sentencing phase.

Chandler's conviction for arranging the slaying of an informer, however, still stands, and the case was sent back to the lower court for resentencing.

Chandler's trial attorney, Drew Redding, testified at an appeals hearing that he made "very little" effort to sway the jury to spare Chandler's life. Two judges wrote that the jury that sentenced him did not hear witnesses and evidence that showed a "more admirable" side of Chandler.

He was convicted in 1991 of operating a large marijuana ring in northeastern Alabama and arranging the murder of Marlin Shuler, a member of his network who became a government informer. The man who killed Shuler is serving 25 years to life.

Chandler was the first person sentenced under the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which allows the death penalty for killings associated with a criminal enterprise.