Death Penalty Is Becoming Rare in Georgia

The Georgia Supreme Court heard a death penalty appeal on Monday, it’s first such case in almost two years. It has been more than four years since a Georgia jury imposed a death sentence.

The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday did something it once did on a fairly routine basis but now hardly ever does: It heard a death-penalty appeal, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. It had been almost two years since the court heard such a case. It’s been more than four years since a Georgia jury imposed a death sentence. Last year, there were 39 death sentences nationwide, a dramatic drop from 295 in 1998, says the Death Penalty Information Center. Polls show the death penalty is losing public support, said Pete Skandalakis of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia. That’s because people are increasingly comfortable with the sentencing option of life in prison without the possibility of parole. “That has made a huge difference,” said Skandalakis, a former prosecutor. “And when you sit down with victims’ families and discuss the process of a death-penalty case with all the pretrial hearings, then the years of appeals that follow, I have found that families like the finality of life without parole. It lets them get on with their lives.”

On Monday, the court heard an appeal from Demetrius Willis, who was sentenced to death in 2008 for three murders. His attorney asked to strike down the death penalty in Georgia on grounds it is arbitrarily imposed. “It’s just not working,” Charles Henry Frier said. Fulton County prosecutor Kevin Armstrong said there was “no basis” for Frier’s claim. Last year, the two death cases tried in Georgia involved the murder of law enforcement officers; both resulted in life-without-parole terms. More often than not, district attorneys are allowing capital defendants to enter guilty pleas in exchange for life-without-parole sentences. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy,” Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said. “As more and more juries give fewer death sentences, prosecutors begin to think it’s not worth the effort.”