It’s a case that “should shock the conscience of every person who believes [in] due process of law,” according to Andrew Cohen, a Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and long-time legal analyst.
He was referring to the execution of William Sallie by the state of Georgia on Tuesday for the 1990 murder of his father-in-law. It was its ninth execution this year, more than any other state, and the highest number since Georgia reinstated its death penalty in 1973.
Sallie killed his father-in-law during the course of a custody dispute with his estranged wife. One of the jurors during his trial had been involved in domestic disputes and hadn’t disclosed this. That juror, who had disclosed to the court that she would follow Biblical law over Georgia law when considering whether to vote for life or death, also reportedly pushed six fellow jurors to vote for death instead of a life sentence. But Sallie’s lawyers were not able to get a hearing on the issue of juror bias because Sallie had missed, by eight days, a deadline to bring the appeal. The reason? He didn’t have a lawyer.
This, according to several defense attorneys, is not unusual in Georgia, which does not provide a lawyer to death row inmates after their first round of appeals is exhausted.
This miscarriage of justice so enraged former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher that he wrote in an editorial in the New York Times, “Fundamental fairness, due process and the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment require the courts to provide an attorney throughout the entire legal process to review a death sentence. Virtually every capital-punishment state has this safeguard. Georgia is an outlier.”
Fletcher points out that the state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that defendants who have been sentenced to death have no right to counsel at the post-conviction stage.
As Cohen wrote, “No one argues that Sallie deserves leniency for his crime. But no one deserves to be executed in the circumstances presented here, where basic due process was repeatedly denied by our courts of law.”