Retired AJC journalist Rhonda Cook witnessed 28 executions during her tenure. Here’s what it’s like:
As former AJC journalist Adam Carlson reported previously, a pair of Georgia lawsuits had national significance regarding the death penalty:
Furman v. Georgia (1972): The court essentially halted the administration of the death penalty nationwide by striking down systems at the state level which afforded juries "arbitrary and inconsistent" discretion in imposing the death penalty on the convicted.
One justice wrote, "These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual ... (The Constitution) cannot tolerate the infliction of a sentence of death under legal systems that permit this unique penalty to be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed."
Gregg v. Georgia (1976): The court ended the moratorium on the death penalty by affirming Georgia's solution to the earlier Furman decision, in changing how its juries could impose the death penalty (specifically on one convicted man, Troy Leon Gregg). The court's holding set forth two conditions of a constitutional death penalty: "If the jury is furnished with standards to direct and limit the sentencing discretion, and the jury's decision is subjected to meaningful appellate review."
A third case related to the death penalty also began in Georgia: Coker v. Georgia, decided in 1977, ruled that the Constitution did not allow rape to be a crime eligible for the death penalty.