Life or death... penalty: Who decides?

By Taylor Barnhill  - bio | email

COLUMBUS, GA (WXTX) -  News Leader 9 has covered several murder trials recently and many people have asked "why aren't these murderers being sentenced to death"? So we went searching for answers.

In the state of Georgia, when a murder suspect is on trial there are three options: life in prison, life without parole and the death penalty. But just because a suspect is sitting in the defendant chair, doesn't necessarily mean the death penalty is an option.

District Attorney Julia Slater said, "Each case is evaluated on a case by case basis, no two cases, especially murder cases, are alike. You have to understand there is an advantage to not seeking the death penalty as far as the length of time the trial takes, the number of appeals the victim's family would have to endure. We take in to consideration the victim's family's wishes and make a decision on each case individually."

Some would argue the murder of multiple people or even young children should necessitate the death penalty. But Slater explained, "The victim's status rarely has anything to do with the judicial system because every life is valuable in the eyes of the law."

Others may thing that a particular sentence would influence the suspect to plea one way or the other.

"Using the death penalty as a bargaining chip in order to obtain a guilty plea on a life in prison sentence is unethical. I think if we're going to seek the death penalty it should be because this case deserves the death penalty, not to make it easier to get a plea in the case," D.A. Slater told News Leader Nine.

Another misconception is the judge has the authority to decide between life or death, but that power lies in the hand of the district attorney, and she said, "A lot of people are under the misconception that anyone can be punished by the death penalty, but that's simply not the case in Georgia. It has to be statutory requirements in order to seek the death penalty."

Those requirements include: vile or heinous crimes, torture or depravity of the mind, suspect's prior convictions, other heinous crimes being committed at the same time of the murder, murder for hire or money, using a device, such as a bomb, that would cause the death of several people or murdering someone who was serving as a police officer, judge, district attorney or other high official ranking.

To get more information on the death penalty, visit

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