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Another Fulton County judge has declared Georgia’s electric chair a cruel and unusual punishment. Fulton Superior Court Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore called electrocution “as brutal and antiquated as having an angry mob chase the accused down the streets of town and then lynching him.” Moore, the second Georgia jurist to declare the electric chair unconstitutional, said in a Feb. 6 order that it inflicts “grave needless pain and suffering.” She noted that “even animals receive more humane treatment by receiving lethal injection as a method of euthanasia. This Court cannot turn a blind eye and refuse to consider the extensive evidence demonstrating the monstrosity of death by electrocutions.” Ferrell v. State, No. 95-v-393 (Butts Super. Feb. 6, 2001). Moore’s ruling came in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Eric Lynn Ferrell was convicted and sentenced to death in DeKalb County in 1988 for the 1987 murders of his 72-year-old grandmother, Willie Myrt Lowe, and his 15-year-old cousin, Tony Kilgore. Ferrell’s conviction and sentence were upheld on direct appeal by the Georgia Supreme Court in 1991. Ferrell v. State, 261 Ga. 115 (1991). In her 21-page order, Moore overturned both Ferrell’s conviction and his death sentence and ordered that he be given a new trial. In reversing the conviction, she found that Ferrell’s appellate counsel had been ineffective in investigating his claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Moore’s declaration on the electric chair comes just weeks after a similar ruling by her colleague, Fulton Superior Court Judge Wendy L. Shoob. Shoob, in a pretrial ruling in the case of accused killer Timothy Carl Dawson, wrote that electrocution “involves lingering death, bodily mutilation and distortion, and physical violence indicative of inhumanity and barbarity.” This week, Shoob told lawyers for both sides that she intended to certify that ruling for interim review by the Georgia Supreme Court, thereby postponing Dawson’s scheduled March trial. Justices have written that they would be willing to confront the issue if presented with the appropriate appeal. Both Moore and Shoob had extensive evidence to consider on the issue, including affidavits of eyewitnesses to executions. Both judges cited a growing national trend to abandon the electric chair. Moore wrote that lethal injection is now “nationally advocated as being more humane as well as more cost efficient.” Last year, the Georgia Legislature passed a law to provide for lethal injection as the method of execution for defendants sentenced to die for crimes committed after May 1, 2000. But 135 inmates on Georgia’s Death Row still face the electric chair. No defendant has been sentenced to lethal injection so far in Georgia. The law provides that if the Georgia Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court declares electrocution unconstitutional, lethal injection will become the state’s sole method of execution. Moore’s order said that change should happen. The death penalty, she wrote, can be carried out “without imposing a barbaric impact.” She went on to say that, by insisting on keeping electrocution, “the underlying moral/political question is raised as to whether electrocution is preferred because of its overwhelming dramatic and gory effect, or whether we are sincerely interested in merely administering proper punishment.” With lethal injection, she added, “we are spared the horror of burning flesh, boiling blood, and fried bodies associated with death by electrocution. As a contemporary society, we should insist upon the less bestial alternative available to accomplish the intended end.” Ferrell’s habeas attorneys were Daniel Beck of Cambridge, Mass., and Thomas H. Dunn and Steve Baliss of the Georgia Resource Center. Dunn, the center’s executive director, couldn’t be reached. Daryl A. Robinson, Deputy Counsel to the Attorney General, representing the state, says his office already has filed a notice of appeal.

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