Today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, "Lawyer wants death sentence tossed." It's by Bill Rankin.
A lawyer on Monday asked the Georgia Supreme Court to do something it has not done in more than 30 years -- throw out a death sentence because it is so out of line with sentences imposed in similar cases.
The case of Winston Clay Barrett, sentenced to death for killing his best friend, is unlike other capital cases that involve robbery, rape, underage victims or prolonged torture, Atlanta lawyer Jack Martin argued. This was a drunken brawl that was provoked by the victim and which involved no premeditation, he said.
During oral arguments, Martin asked the court to consider a study by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that examined all Georgia murder convictions from 1995 through 2004. Martin told the court there were 17 murder cases with facts similar to Barrett's during that time frame where the defendants received life -- not death -- sentences. No similar cases received a death sentence, he said.
The AJC's study, introduced into evidence during Barrett's appeal, "is not the end all or be all," but the court should pay attention to it, Martin said. The court is expected to rule later this year.
The AJC series, published in 2007, found that Georgia's death-penalty law had failed to ensure a predictable and even-handed application of capital punishment. The newspaper researched the facts and circumstances behind 2,328 murder cases, relying largely on court records, police and medical examiner's reports and interviews. The newspaper asked each of the state's 49 district attorneys to review a summary of the data, and many provided input to clarify facts.
In a filing, Lindsey Hurst of the state Attorney General's Office told the court that the AJC's death-penalty study "is not binding on this court, nor is it persuasive authority." On Monday, Hurst told the justices that Barrett's death sentence should be upheld because the Towns County man had a history of violence and killed Danny "Stumpy" Youngblood by smashing his head on a table, pistol whipping him, gouging his eye and then shooting him in the back of the head.
When the court studies the case to determine if Barrett's death sentence was an "outlier," the court will determine "it simply is not," Hurst said.
But two of the court's seven justices expressed concerns.
The 2007 Journal-Constitution four-day series, "A Matter of Life or Death," on proportionality review is available at ajc.com. In 2008, Justice John Paul Stevens criticized the Georgia Supreme Court on the issue of its proportionality reviews of cases.
Earlier coverage of proportionality issues in Georgia begins at the link.
Related posts are in the proportionality category index.