The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday upheld the death sentence against a man who killed his best friend, rejecting arguments the sentence should have been overturned because it was out of line with penalties in similar cases.
Winston Clay Barrett was convicted of killing Danny “Stumpy” Youngblood on Aug. 4, 2002, during a drunken brawl that began inside the Barretts’ residence in Hiawassee. Barrett became enraged after Youngblood, awaking after a night of heavy drinking, urinated on Barrett’s television and then almost defecated on the Barretts’ bed while Barrett’s wife was lying there.
When Barrett’s wife screamed out and pushed Youngblood off the bed, Youngblood balled up his fist and yelled an obscenity at her. Barrett burst out of the bathroom and pistol-whipped, stomped and kicked Youngbood before fatally shooting him at point-blank range.
On appeal, Barrett’s lawyer, Jack Martin, cited 17 murders committed from 1995 through 2004 that had facts similar to Barrett’s case. None of those cases led to a death sentence.
Georgia’s death-penalty law requires the Georgia Supreme Court to make sure every capital sentence is in line with punishment in similar cases and to throw out those that are disproportionately severe. The court has not thrown out a death sentence on proportionality grounds in more than 30 years.
In Monday’s opinion, Justice Harris Hines said the court views a particular crime against the backdrop of “all” similar cases in Georgia. “Considering the murder and the defendant, we find that Barrett’s death sentence is not disproportionate within the meaning of Georgia law,” Hines wrote.
In an appendix accompanying the opinion, the court cited nineother death-penalty cases to show juries had imposed death in similar cases to Barrett’s. In these cases, like Barrett’s, juries found the murders involved an aggravated battery and were “outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible and inhuman,” Hines noted.
But some of the cases cited by the court were starkly different than Barrett’s. At least two involved planned, premediated killings: a white supremacist who shot and killed one of his followers because he failed to comply with orders to burn down a crack house; and a man who kidnapped and killed a hotel housekeeper hours after she had snuck into his room and stolen his drugs and cash. A third involved the killing of a woman who had been bound and raped, shot in the head with a shotgun and then slashed in the throat because she was still breathing.
Martin, Barrett’s lawyer, said he was dismayed by the court’s ruling.
“The court may not want to do a proportionality review, but that’s what the Legislature has commanded it to do,” he said. “If the court is going to comply with the law, it’s hard to imagine how this case could have passed any meaningful review.”
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