ATLANTA -- Twenty-five representatives of groups opposed to the death penalty rallied on the Capitol steps Tuesday to call on the state to halt executions until all questions are resolved over the erroneous condemnation of innocent people.
The rally came on the same day that the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation sponsored by Rep. E.C. Tillman, D-Brunswick, that would switch the method of execution in Georgia from the electric chair to lethal injection. Few states still use electrocution in carrying out the death penalty, and the method has been the subject of court challenges, including an Alabama case scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The people of Georgia ought not to be debating which is more humane, electrocution or putting poison in the veins," said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, head of the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda. "There is no humane way to kill a human being."
But the Rev. Lowery said he wasn't calling for an outright end to the death penalty, just a moratorium until a study commission determines how to ensure no innocent people are punished.
Although the state has executed 23 prisoners since 1973, it has released six who were scheduled to die. They were set free because of technical errors in their prosecution, according to figures cited by the Rev. Brian McAdams, coordinator for Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
"What for you is an acceptable margin of error?" he asked. "The system is broken. Let's just take a break and fix it."
Two bills related to the Tillman measure are pending in the General Assembly. A House Republican alternative would keep electrocution as the state's method of execution unless it is ruled unconstitutional.
A Senate bill sponsored by Minority Leader Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, and two Democrats would give condemned inmates a choice of electrocution or lethal injection.