A Cobb County jury handed down a death sentence Thursday for a former youth pastor convicted in the fatal shootings of two friends.
Joshua Drucker, 33, is the first person in Georgia to be sentenced to the ultimate punishment since the Sept. 21 execution of Troy Anthony Davis, a controversial case that some legal experts thought might temper the jury's feelings about the death penalty.
However, jurors returned with their verdict after having deliberated for less than three hours.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Ann Harris said during her closing arguments that the victims, David Andrew Robertson, 40, and his girlfriend, Lora Nikolova, 25, were essentially ambushed in their own home near Marietta by Drucker -- a man they thought was their friend -- on April 5, 2004.
Drucker later told police that he killed Robertson because he had long harbored a grudge against him for giving Drucker's sister drugs that she overdosed on 14 months prior to the slayings. He shot Nikolova after she reacted by hitting him and screaming "you killed him," but defense attorneys claimed that the gun went off accidentally.
Nikolova's father and mother traveled from Bulgaria to attend the trial, along with her brother, who lives in the United States. They hugged and thanked prosecutors as they left the courtroom.
"I can only say one thing," said Nikolova's brother, Gueurgui Nikolov, translating for his father, Nikola Nikolov. "We came that far away for one and only thing, justice. And we got justice served."
Defense attorney Jimmy Berry had asked for mercy for Drucker, reminding jurors that several doctors testified he had "organic brain damage" that affects his judgment and bipolar disorder. He also said Drucker, a former meth addict, reformed while in prison. The one-time youth pastor at his father's Gospel Outreach Church in Stockbridge now leads a jail Bible study and conducts an Internet ministry from behind bars.
"I'm not asking you, I'm begging you not to take his life," Berry said.
The jury went out at 3:38 p.m. to deliberate three sentencing options: life with the possibility of parole, life without possibility of parole, or death. They returned with their verdict at 6 p.m.
Upon hearing it, Drucker leaned back and swiveled around in his chair to address his parents, his fiancee and several other supporters, who were crying. He smiled and assured them, "it's OK, it's all good."
When deputies moved to silence him, he snickered, "What are you going to do, kill me?"
The deputies escorted Drucker out of the courtroom to prevent further disruption, and his lawyers told the judge he would waive his right to be present for the polling of the jurors, where each juror is asked individually if they agree with the verdict. Drucker's family then got up and left before the proceedings ended.
The jury had already convicted Drucker Oct. 11 on two counts of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, two counts of armed robbery, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and credit card fraud.
Witnesses said his addiction to methamphetamine worsened and he started dealing drugs around the time that his family suffered a series of devastating setbacks, including the death of his infant nephew and a drug overdose that left his sister brain-damaged and confined to a wheelchair.