Ga. Supreme Court rules on death penalty in Whitehead case

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Ga. Supreme Court rules on death penalty in Whitehead case

Post  Jennie on Tue Jul 15, 2008 12:24 pm

Ga. Supreme Court rules on death penalty in Whitehead case

The Georgia Supreme Court said Monday that cop killers are eligible for the death penalty even if they didn't know they were attacking a law enforcement officer at the time.

The 5-2 decision stemmed from a local death penalty case and the shooting death of Bibb County Sheriff's Deputy Joseph Whitehead. The state is seeking the death penalty against 2 local men, Antron Dawayne Fair and Damon Antwon Jolly, accused of killing Whitehead during a no-knock drug raid in 2006.

Those cases, which will be tried separately, can now move forward, and Bibb County District Attorney Howard Simms said he expects to go to trial in January.

Whitehead was one of several drug investigators that raided a home on Atherton Street in Macon more than 2 years ago. Deputies have said they identified themselves, but attorneys for the defense said the men didn't know who was breaking into the house.

The Supreme Court majority found that the aggravated circumstances portion of death penalty regulations, which make death an option when a law enforcement officer is killed, "is silent regarding the defendant's knowledge of the officer's status." But in the criminal statutes defining aggravated assault against a peace officer and aggravated battery against a peace officer, the word "knowingly" is used.

So, "if the General Assembly had intended to require knowledge of the victim's status as a peace officer in order for the… aggravating circumstance to apply, the statutory history shows that it knew how to do so," the summary states.

Simms said he agrees with the decision "pretty much across the board." Attempts to reach attorneys for the defendants have not yet been successful this afternoon.

Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears and Presiding Justice Carol Hunstein dissented on the court's opinion. Hunstein, in writing the dissenting opinion, said that "clearly, a defendant who knowingly murders a peace officer or other public servant…is more culpable than one who does not know the status of his victim."

(source: Macon Telegraph)

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