By GEORGIA BULLETIN STAFF, firstname.lastname@example.org | Published March 3, 2021
ATLANTA–The Archdiocese of Atlanta, including Georgia Catholics Against the Death Penalty (GCADP) and the Georgia Catholic Conference, are joining other advocacy groups to support a house bill to repeal Georgia’s death penalty.
State Representative Beth Moore (D-Peachtree Corners) recently introduced House Bill 485, which would repeal and prohibit the death penalty in the state. The bill would also commute any pending capital punishments to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“If we are to teach our children that it’s a crime to kill another human being who poses no immediate threat to us or to others, then we must uphold that same standard for ourselves,” said Rep. Moore. “The time has come to end the antiquated, inhumane practice of state-sanctioned executions of incarcerated individuals in Georgia.”
In announcing the proposed legislation, Rep. Moore offered a quote from Bryan Stevenson, author of “Just Mercy” and director of the Equal Justice Initiative–“The death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit. The real question of capital punishment in this country is do we deserve to kill?”
Rep. Moore, in a press release, said that when considering Georgia’s own historical and legal precedent, the answer to Stevenson’s question is clearly “no.”
“This legislation is inspired by studies which have highlighted that the death sentence may be given more frequently to those with serious mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities, those with an inadequate legal defense in capital cases and those who experience racial and economic disparities, and that it is used more often on poor, Black defendants,” she said.
“I believe it is time for Georgia to join the growing number of states who have come to realize that the death penalty does not deter crime, eliminates any chance of redemption, and, from a conservative fiscal stance, does not make sense,” said State Representative Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville), who is the lead Republican co-sponsor of HB 485.
Since 1976, Georgia has executed 76 individuals, including four since 2019. As of Jan. 4, 40 inmates on death row in Georgia are awaiting execution. Virginia legislators passed legislation to repeal the death penalty on Feb. 21. The bill awaits the governor’s signature.
Rep. Moore also seeks to prohibit the death penalty based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against Georgia’s death sentence statute in 1971 in Furman v. Georgia (408 U.S. 238). Justice Brennan and Marshall wrote in concurring opinions that the death sentence amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment” and is incompatible with the evolving standards of decency in a contemporary society. Georgia later enacted new statutes for capital punishment.
In addition to the archdiocese, GCADP and the Georgia Catholic Conference, supporters of the legislation include the Southern Center for Human Rights, Georgia Innocence Project, Georgia Defense Lawyer’s Association, Georgia Interfaith Public Policy Center, Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty and the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.
In a March 3 statement, Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., voiced support for the proposal.
“The death penalty is contrary to Catholic teaching. It fails to recognize the dignity and sanctity of human life and has no place in a system of restorative justice,” said Archbishop Hartmayer. “Here in Georgia, as in many places, the death penalty has a history of being unjustly and disproportionately used against minorities as well as people with intellectual disabilities or mental illness. We cannot participate in this kind of blatant injustice.”
HB 485 is also co-sponsored by House Minority Caucus Chairman Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain), and other co-sponsors are also attorneys, such as State Representatives Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta) and William Boddie (D-East Point), as well as a pastor, State Representative Gregg Kennard (D-Lawrenceville).
During the 2019-2020 session, a similar bill was sponsored by three former Republican state representatives.
The bill is currently in the House Committee on Judiciary Non Civil. Advocacy groups encourage Georgians to contact their representatives in support of the bill as Crossover Day approaches.
Crossover Day, which will be the week of March 8, is the deadline for a bill to pass out of either legislative chamber. Bills that fail to do so are no longer in consideration during the current session in Georgia. These bills, however, can be carried over and voted on in 2022.