Originally created 03/02/05

Augusta cases are unaffected by ruling



A U.S. Supreme Court decision Tuesday outlawing the death penalty for crimes committed by juveniles affects cases in Georgia and South Carolina, but none in the Augusta Judicial Circuit.

However, District Attorney Danny Craig said Tuesday that the ruling would have affected three local cases if the jurors had imposed death instead of life in prison without parole.

His concern is that now prosecutors cannot seek that sentence - life without the possibility of parole - against anyone younger than 18. Mr. Craig said the law only allows that punishment in death-penalty cases.

In Georgia, the ruling affects Larry Jenkins and Exzavious Gibson, who were both 17 when they committed murder.

Mr. Jenkins, now 29, killed Terry Ralston and her teenage son Michael in southeast Georgia's Wayne County in 1995.

Mr. Gibson, now 32, killed Douglas Coley in middle Georgia's Dodge County. The case gained national attention when Mr. Gibson, considered borderline retarded with an IQ of less than 80, represented himself at his first appeal, which was denied.

Three men on South Carolina's death row are affected by the ruling.

Ted "Benji" Powers, Herman Hughes and Eric Morgan should all have their sentence reduced to life in prison, according to South Carolina defense attorney John Blume, who frequently represents clients on death row, and the state attorney general's office.

South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster said while he doesn't agree with the ruling, it is now law.

"While I firmly believe that adult crimes usually deserve adult punishment, the Supreme Court's decision brings clarity to an issue that has conflicted the hearts of many Americans," Mr. McMaster said in a statement.

Mr. Morgan was sent to death row in March 2004 for killing a clerk at a Spartanburg County convenience store during a robbery in 2000.

Mr. Powers was convicted in February 1996 of stabbing a 68-year-old Gaston man to death.

Mr. Hughes was 16 when he gunned down an employee in a video gambling parlor in Calhoun County in 1994, prosecutors said.

Staff Writer Sandy Hodson contributed to this report.