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December 16, 2009

Georgia Supreme Court halts final scheduled execution for 2009

This new piece from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which is headlined "Georgia Supreme Court halts Carlton Gary's execution," reports that the last execution scheduled for 2009 was put on hold this afternoon:

The Georgia Supreme Court on Wednesday halted the execution of the so-called Columbus stocking strangler, ordering a judge to consider Carlton Gary's request for DNA testing.  The 5-2 ruling came four hours before Gary was to be executed by lethal injection....

Prosecutors said Gary sexually assaulted and attacked four other women during an eight-month period in 1977 and 1978.  The attacks terrified residents of the Wynnton neighborhood of Columbus. Fingerprint evidence placed Gary at the homes of three of the victims.  Gary did not deny being at the scenes, but said an accomplice sexually assaulted and attacked the women.  At the time of Gary's trial, DNA testing was unavailable....

On Wednesday, the Georgia Supreme Court found that the motion complied with the requirements of a 2003 state law that allows requests for DNA testing had DNA tests been unavailable at the time of trial.  The court ordered Johnston to hold a hearing to consider the request.  Chief Justice Carol Hunstein and Justice George Carley dissented.

As a result of this development, it appears that the final body count for executions in 2009 throughout the United States will be 52.  As detailed in this DPIC chart, the 52 executions in 2009 marks a significant increase in the total number of executions from 2007 (42 executions) and 2008 (37 executions), but it still well below the average of roughly 70 executions per year for the decade from 1995 to 2005. 

As detailed in this DPIC chart, Texas (with 24), Alabama (with 6) and Ohio (with 5) were the top three states in total executions in 2009.  (I have to think it is just a coincidence that the college football teams for the state universities in Texas, Alabama and Ohio all won their respective conference championships.  But maybe some enterprising number cruncher can see if there is a modern correlation between execution rates and college football success.)

December 16, 2009 at 06:00 PM | Permalink

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Georgia Supreme Court Halts Execution: In yesterday's NewsScan we posted that the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has declined to stay the execution of Carlton Gary, but last night, on Sentencing Law and Policy, Doug Berman reported that the... [Read More]

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Comments

Fingerprints at the homes of 4 unrelated victims.

The judges need to be removed. I would like to see them arrested, tried and executed for their collaboration with this serial killer.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 16, 2009 11:11:00 PM

The defense attorneys strategically withheld this DNA request. Test the evidence, fine, but sanction the attorneys.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 17, 2009 10:14:10 AM

Let's skip that study... if it finds the kind of correlation you're talking about, Alabama, Texas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma might institute the death penalty for jaywalking...

Posted by: Anon | Dec 17, 2009 10:43:14 AM

I think you might actually see 70 executions in 2010. There is a huge backlog in Florida and NC (although NC probably won't execute anyone as the RJA gets sorted). Ohio will likely execute 10-12 killers next year (one per month). Delaware may set some dates; Tennessee will likely execute a few; Texas is Texas. Arkansas and Missouri have LI created backlogs.

It will be interesting to see the outcomes of litigation in Washington, California and Arizona.

Lethal injection claims, despite the emphatic victory in Baze, still bedevil the execution process. It's a testament to many courts' willingness to engage in judicial activism to thwart the democratic will.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 17, 2009 11:21:33 AM

Just pointing out that the "democratic will" once outlawed mixed-race marriage and enacted laws establishing segregation and Jim Crow laws. Though the context is different, an appeal to the "democratic will" is often a code-word for tyranny by the majority.

Posted by: Mark # 1 | Dec 17, 2009 1:24:26 PM

Mark # 1 --

Tyranny by the minority is better??? What's your alternative to majority rule? King George had an alternative. We fought the Revolution to get rid of him, and it.

I always see this, "But what about segregation and Jim Crow"!!! The implication is that if a person is persuaded that Law X is immoral by his lights, it has no legitimate authority. I see this frequently in the drug legalization debate: Drug laws are immoral as encroachments on individual liberty, therefore they count for zilch.

This and the Jim Crow argument raise some questions you might wish to address:

What are the standards for a person to use in deciding which laws he's going to obey and which he can ignore as "immoral"?

Does everyone get to choose for himself?

Does the fact that there are going to be 300,000,000 different versions of what's "immoral" create any complications?

Are there any complications arising from the fact that in plenty of cases, an individual's assertion that he finds a law "immoral" is going to be phony, and simply a cover so that he can justify doing whatever he wants? Suppose a person says he finds age of consent laws to be "immoral" constraints on human sexuality, and therefore he was justified in having non-forcible and non-physically harmful sex with a ten year-old.

Of course he doesn't really find the age of consent laws immoral; he's just saying that to cover the fact that he's a perv and gets his kicks from kiddies. What do you say to him? Each man's morality, or claimed morality, is his own law?

What then is the authority of democratic law?

What becomes of the social contract? Does it have a little asterisk at the end pointing to a fine-print footnote that says, "The above is subject to cancellation without notice when I decide a particlar law is bad, in which case I can do as I please."

The problem with the breezy incantation of phrases like "tyranny of the majority" is that it leaves these questions unanswered -- indeed, so far as I can see, unasked. But they should be both asked and answered.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 17, 2009 3:29:34 PM

The problem, though, is that while the Constitution envisions democratic rule, it also is a series of anti-majoritarian provisions designed precisely to protect minorities and thwart majority rule. The drafters were extremely wary of straight-up majority rule and "factions," and they recognized that the majority needs no protection from the government or from each other. The judicial system is one of those many anti-majoritarian checks.

The question then becomes: where should majoritarian rule end and minority protection begin? Scholars have been debating that one for centuries, as did our Founding Fathers, and in an endless number of situations. I'm not raising this to suggest that the courts should strike down certain execution methods, or recognize certain rights, or strike down certain laws--I'm just noting that the view of American government as a super-Athens is wrong, and saying that a branch of government is overzealous every time it goes against the grain is too oversimplified.

Here is my humble proposition: especially when death is at issue, even as punishment for a crime, that's a pretty good place for the courts to ensure that things are done smoothly. Because as we know, at the end of the day, even abolitionists don't really give a damn about whether the triple-murderer suffers on the guerney.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Dec 17, 2009 3:54:13 PM

A reasonable position, Res ipsa, and for now I would add only one observation:

The Supreme Court itself operates by majority rule.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 18, 2009 11:17:26 AM

Saying that the majority supports the death penalty is a bit silly. The pro-DP side will do whatever it takes to sugar-coat the issue. They don't want the electorate to witness executions (whereas in Iran the people are privy to a lot more information about what it looks like to watch someone die at the hands of a government bureaucrat). They don't want democratic election of executioners (why not?). Instead, they want to present the little people with a nice slick-looking thing called the death penalty. After they have done that, it isn't too much to get a non-college-educated POS to support it.

Perhaps the DP is a good idea. But, let's at least make sure that we all know what it looks like when a civil servant tries two or three times to kill someone, before finally getting him to die.

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 21, 2009 10:59:51 AM

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