Life Sentence in Court Shooting Spurs Push for Nonunanimous Death Verdicts
Posted Dec 18, 2008 12:51 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
After jurors failed to agree on the death penalty for convicted courthouse shooter Brian Nichols, several Georgia lawmakers got behind proposals to end the requirement for unanimity.
Currently all states with the death penalty require jurors to be united in their decision that execution is warranted, the New York Times reports. Only nine of 12 jurors voted in favor of the death penalty in the Nichols case. One holdout reportedly covered her ears with earphones and worked on a crossword puzzle as jurors deliberated Nichols’ fate.
Nichols received multiple life sentences without parole on Saturday for the shooting deaths of a judge and three other people in a courthouse killing spree.
Harvard Law School professor Carol Steiker told the Times a change in the law could violate the 14th Amendment due process guarantee and the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
While several lawmakers said they wanted to end the requirement for unanimity, they have not yet decided how many votes will be required to impose the penalty, the newspaper says.
The prosecutor in the case, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, called for a change in the rules, the Associated Press reports. He also planned to meet with federal officials to talk about a possible federal prosecution seeking the death penalty, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.