Originally created 08/20/05

Attorneys argue death sentence legality



An Augusta man accused of committing a double homicide nearly two years ago could stand trial in January.

Judge Neal Dickert said Friday he would like to hold Willie Allen's death penalty trial in Richmond County Superior Court in the last two weeks in January.

Mr. Allen, 30, has pleaded not guilty to charges including the Dec. 11, 2003, deaths of Angela van Eeden and Ray A. Cobb.

On Friday, Mr. Allen appeared in court while his attorneys, Michael Garrett and Willie Saunders, presented final defense motions challenging the way death sentences may be imposed in Georgia.

Judge Dickert took two issues under advisement, warning, though, that he was inclined to agree with the prosecutor's position.

Mr. Garrett urged the judge to find that a particular judicial procedure in Georgia's death penalty law is just as unconstitutional as a former Arizona procedure. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Arizona law in June 2002.

The Supreme Court ruled that jurors, not judges, must determine whether prosecutors prove certain facts that make death an optional punishment.

In Georgia, those facts, called aggravating circumstances, are determined by a jury.

However, Mr. Garrett argued, the Georgia Supreme Court decides if any particular death sentence is excessive or disproportionate in consideration of others sentenced to death. That is a factual determination and it should be decided by a jury, Mr. Garrett said.

That, countered District Attorney Danny Craig, is circular logic. The defense is arguing that an additional appeal step violates a defendant's constitutional rights, Mr. Craig said.

Mr. Garrett also argued that the same U.S. Supreme Court decision requires prosecutors to set any aggravating circumstance in the indictment.

Mr. Craig contends the aggravating circumstances in Mr. Allen's case are that Ms. van Eeden and Mr. Cobb were killed while Mr. Allen was committing a burglary, and that Mr. Cobb was killed when Mr. Allen was committing the murder of Ms. van Eeden.

Ms. van Eeden, 28, and Mr. Cobb, 33, were found shot to death in her Hephzibah home. Her two small children, fathered by Mr. Allen, were missing. The children were later found unharmed.

Mr. Allen was arrested less than 24 hours later in Jacksonville, Fla.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

What's Next:

If Willie Allen is convicted of murder, the jury will be asked to impose punishment - life in prison with or without the possibility of parole, or death.