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Legislators say Fulton County, Ga., Judge Wendy L. Shoob’s order declaring electrocution unconstitutional won’t prod them to take up the issue of capital punishment again. Last year, the Georgia Legislature passed a measure instituting lethal injection as the means of punishment for those sentenced to die for crimes committed after May 1, 2000, while preserving the electric chair for those sentenced to die for crimes committed before the law took effect. It also says that if the U.S. Supreme Court or the Georgia Supreme Court declare electrocution unconstitutional, lethal injection will be the sole means of execution. The bill passed the state House 162-10, and the state Senate 44-3. During the House debate Democratic Rep. Ben Allen of Augusta tried to introduce an amendment that would have abolished the death penalty, but it won only 15 votes. Rep. Mitchell Kaye, R.-Marietta, who helped write the bill that passed last year, says he’s not surprised that a court has challenged electrocution. He says he suspected last year that electrocution’s days might be numbered. “This is precisely the reason why I pushed so hard on legislation for a backup means of execution,” he says. Kaye says he was concerned that should electrocution be declared unconstitutional, the state would be left with no means of executing capital felons, and would have to turn to life in prison without the possibility of parole. BAKER REVIEWING ORDER State Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker says Shoob’s order is “a matter of great concern” to his office. Baker says he and his staff have the order under “active” review, to ensure it does not jeopardize capital punishment as a whole. “We certainly stand ready to assist the Fulton County District Attorney in any manner he deems appropriate,” he says. Baker says his office just received the order, and he wants more time to review it before commenting in detail. “It’s got my attention; I can tell you that much,” he says. House Judiciary Chairman Rep. James Martin, D-Atlanta, welcomed the ruling, saying that when the state Legislature passes a law like the one prescribing lethal injection, it is also in a sense expressing public opinion on an issue. “Then [the law] is in some way an expression of society’s opinion of a method of punishment,” he says. The May 1 cutoff date, Martin says, reflected lawmakers’ concern that they would slow or complicate pending capital cases if they made lethal injection retroactive. “I think that the concern that the Legislature had was that we as a legislature would be stepping into some difficult issues if we tried to make the legislation retroactive,” he says. Rep. Eugene C. Tillman, D-Brunswick, one of the primary sponsors of the lethal injection legislation, says he’s glad the state now has another chance to keep the death penalty but do away with the chair. “The first thought that comes out is ‘hallelujah,’ ” he says. “ I always thought it was cruel and unusual.”

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