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Death penalty cases on decline

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After Richmond County’s most recent execution – Mark McClain in 2009 – Augusta District Attorney Ashley Wright noticed a trend taking shape in capital murder trials.

“Our juries are reserving the death penalty only for those cases which are the most hideous,” said Wright, who is encountering juries more willing to sentence convicted killers to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

With a national movement to abolish capital punishment spreading across the United States, enthusiasm for the death penalty is on the decline.

In May, Maryland became the 18th state – and the first south of the Mason-Dixon Line – to repeal death-penalty laws. Since 2007, five states have abolished the death penalty, and last year, 43 prisoners were executed, down from 98 in 1999.

In Georgia, the trend is much the same. For the third time this century – and the first time in five years – the state had no executions in 2012.

Tonight, the state plans its second execution this year. Warren Hill, 52, was sentenced to death for fatally beating an inmate in 1990 while serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend. His lawyers argue that Hill is mentally disabled and therefore shouldn’t be put to death because of state law and a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The first Georgia execution in 2013 was Andrew Allen Cook, a 38-year-old inmate put to death in February for killing two Mercer Uni­ver­sity students in 1995 at Lake Juliette, about 75 miles south of Atlanta.

More than 15 years after Robert Wayne Holsey was convicted of murdering a Baldwin County sheriff’s deputy, Fred Bright, the district attorney of central Georgia’s Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit, received an execution order last month that’s becoming a rare sight in prosecutor offices statewide.

On June 10, the U.S. Su­preme Court denied Holsey’s ninth and final petition to be removed from death row, clearing the way for his execution, possibly by early fall.

“It’s more difficult this day in age to get the death penalty,” said Bright, the outgoing chairman of Georgia’s Pro­se­cuting Attorneys’ Council. “There’s just more hurdles.”

An analysis compiled in Jan­uary by the Department of Cor­rections shows capital punishment in Georgia is not what it was in the early 20th century.

On average, a dozen people were executed each year between 1926 and 1956. Before that, executions were public spectacles in Georgia; the state recorded more than 500 legal hangings between 1725 and 1925.

Today, the electric chair has been put to rest and lethal injection isn’t thought to be as painless and humane as lawmakers were told it was at its inception in 2001.

Prosecutors are choosing life sentences to more quickly provide victims’ families closure in state court systems that they say are riddled with delays and overworked capital defense lawyers.

Bright said that after he became district attorney in 1994, his office averaged two “knockdown, drag-out” death penalty trials for six years. Since then, the district has tried only one capital murder case, and today it has only one death penalty trial pending.

“It does not surprise me that the numbers are dwindling,” Bright said. “I’d like to think that taking a tough line on murder cases might have deterred some criminals, but the fact of the matter is you do not have as many death penalty cases anymore. That’s the way the system is.”

Bright said the Holsey trial, his longest, lasted 17 days. In Fulton County, capital murder trials are known to take as long as six weeks. In Augusta, a trial can last half as long.

“If I had a true death penalty case, I would still ask for it now,” Bright said. “But it just seems getting them up to the plate is more difficult.”

The last inmate to be executed from Bright’s district was Brandon Rhode in 2010. He broke into the home of a Jones County family in 2007 and killed an 11-year-old boy, 15-year-old girl and their father.

Daniel Lucas, Rhode’s co-defendant, remains on death row. After six years, his case continues to be appealed.

Six months before Mc­Clain was put to death for robbing and fatally shooting an Augusta pizza store manager, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue granted prosecutors the option to seek life sentences without the possibility of parole in cases that don’t carry the death penalty.

The legislation immediately changed trial outcomes in Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties; juries began returning verdicts one to two votes shy of the death penalty, Wright said.

Before 2010, Georgia prosecutors were required to first seek the death penalty in murder cases before asking for a sentence of life without parole.

“When I started prosecuting, it was either life or death, but since that third option was provided, it has been more difficult for 12 members of a jury to agree to impose a death sentence, which is an awesome burden, an awesome burden, to put on people,” Wright said. “It’s an important function of society for the community to decide what is appropriate in the most hideous of murder cases.”

Wright said the shift in legal policy has altered the way prosecutors analyze cases.

“Quite frankly, trials move a lot quicker if you do not seek the death penalty,” Wright said.

In cases involving defendants with intellectual disabilities, though, postponements are common.

Hill came within hours of death in July 2012 and in February before scheduled executions were halted by last-minute court orders. In 2006, controversy swirled around whether Holsey suffered from mental impairment. Both Holsey and
Hill scored slightly above the IQ range of mental retardation.

The Georgia Council on De­velopmental Disabilities has called on the state to alter the burden of proof required to execute criminals who suffer from mental retardation to include clinical studies in addition to IQ tests.

“We are about to execute a man who was diagnosed with mental retardation,” Eric Jacobson, the council’s executive director, said while campaigning last week to stop Hill’s execution. “We have a Su­preme Court decision and a general acceptance in our society that our most vulnerable citizens should not be executed. We need to honor that.”

DEATH PENALTY

Execution totals In Georgia since 2000:

Year Total

2000 0

2001 4

2002 4

2003 3

2004 2

2005 3

2006 0

2007 1

2008 3

2009 3

2010 2

2011 4

2012 0

Source: Georgia Department of Corrections

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myfather15
55706
Points
myfather15 07/14/13 - 10:04 pm
4
3
Absolutely pathetic!! Thank you liberal activists!!

I don't care about how heinous or gruesome the killing is; ANYONE who premeditates to kill another human being and does so, deserves the death penalty, period!! Then you have those who, in the commission of armed robbery or such offense, kill another human being; they deserve DEATH as well!! I don't care if they MEANT TOO!! If you go into a convenience store with a GUN and rob that store, then something happens and you shoot the clerk; you've taken the life of an innocent person, just trying to make a living!! You deserve NOTHING less than death and a QUICK death at that!! Society doesn't need people like THEM, in existence!!

Thank goodness, one day the decision will NOT be mankinds to make!! We WILL live in a world free of people who would do such things; a TRUE world of peace and the ONLY way we will ever have true peace!! It won't be only their flesh bodies killed, but their very soul!!! They simply will not exist ever again; of THEIR OWN FREE WILL CHOICES!!! Thank you Father for the wonderful world, that is coming much sooner than people think!!

soapy_725
43678
Points
soapy_725 07/15/13 - 08:24 am
1
0
Jurors lie about their objectivity&Ability to give death penalty
Unpublished

Jurors lie about their objectivity&Ability to give death penalty

soapy_725
43678
Points
soapy_725 07/15/13 - 08:24 am
1
0
Of course now, everyone in the courtroom lies. Everyone.
Unpublished

Of course now, everyone in the courtroom lies. Everyone.

soapy_725
43678
Points
soapy_725 07/15/13 - 08:25 am
1
0
No God. No Law against lying. No penalty for lying.
Unpublished

No God. No Law against lying. No penalty for lying.

soapy_725
43678
Points
soapy_725 07/15/13 - 08:26 am
1
0
TV Court. Judge is God&Lawyers are court jesters. SICK
Unpublished

TV Court. Judge is God&Lawyers are court jesters. SICK

soapy_725
43678
Points
soapy_725 07/15/13 - 08:27 am
1
0
Save money and try the cases on Twitter. We are egetting there.
Unpublished

Save money and try the cases on Twitter. We are egetting there.

soapy_725
43678
Points
soapy_725 07/15/13 - 08:28 am
1
0
Communist Manifesto. Destroy confidence in the legal system.
Unpublished

Communist Manifesto. Destroy confidence in the legal system.

General Disarray
155
Points
General Disarray 07/15/13 - 10:20 am
0
1
^ Some loving, compassionate
Unpublished

^ Some loving, compassionate Christian eh?

Dixieman
14943
Points
Dixieman 07/15/13 - 11:27 am
2
1
Why the slowdown? Dixieman explains it all

Easy -- liberal activists and lawyers who will do and say anything to throw sand in the gears and prevent any execution, no matter how well-deserved. They are trying to drag these cases out and make it terribly expensive to litigate them and house the guilty on death row in the hope that they can make their viewpoint prevail by intimidation and unethical sabotage rather than reason and persuasion.

myfather15
55706
Points
myfather15 07/15/13 - 02:08 pm
1
1
Exactly Dixieman

They made it practically impossible financialy for any Judicial Circuit to seek the death penatly!! They've flooded the system with red tape and related expense!!

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