ATLANTA — The act of executing a Georgia death row inmate scheduled to die next week would violate his constitutional rights, his lawyers argued in a court filing Wednesday.
William Sallie, 50, is scheduled for execution Tuesday. He was convicted in the March 1990 slaying of his father-in-law.
While his lawyers assert that the imposition of a death sentence by a jury is, itself, unconstitutional, that’s not the issue they’re raising in the petition filed the Superior Court of Butts County, which is the county where Georgia’s death row is located. Instead they argue that the act of carrying out the execution next week in Georgia would be unconstitutional.
The state attorney general’s office did not immediately have a comment Wednesday, spokeswoman Katelyn McCreary said in an email.
Executing Sallie would be arbitrary, and thus would amount to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment, and would also violate his rights to due process, the petition says.
“The dramatic difference between prisoners under sentence of death in Georgia and those in almost every other jurisdiction that has the death penalty is that the vast majority of death sentences elsewhere will never be carried out,” his lawyers argue.
While a Georgia death row inmate is generally set for execution soon after his post-conviction appeals are exhausted, those in other states often linger in prison long beyond the completion of those appeals, in effect a life prison sentence, Sallie’s lawyers argue. They note that there are at least 18 California death row inmates who have completed their appeals but who remain on death row with no execution date set, while Sallie is the only one in Georgia and his execution date was set within days of his appeals ending.
They also cite studies that have found that the death penalty is disproportionately imposed based on the race of the defendant and the victim, as well as where in the state the crime happened. When the victim is white and the crime happened in a rural area, both of which are true in Sallie’s case, there is a much higher chance of getting death.
“Thus by ordering the infliction of (Sallie’s) execution on December 6, 2016, Georgia has selected Mr. Sallie to be executed from a pool of individuals assembled by a flawed scheme,” his lawyers argue.
That Georgia obtains an execution order from a judge simply by requesting one and then sets and carries out an execution in a very short timeframe denies a death row inmate due process, the petition says. Under state law, a Georgia execution order sets a seven-day period for the execution to be carried out that “shall commence not less than ten nor more than 20 days from the date of the order.”
By contrast, Texas law says an execution date may not be earlier than the 91st day after a judge enters the order. Even Texas, which has executed far more inmates than any other state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, gives inmates a longer window of time to file challenges in the courts, Sallie’s lawyers argue.
Sallie’s wife was living with her parents in rural south Georgia after having filed for divorce, and the two had been embroiled in a bitter custody battle over their young son.
After cutting his in-laws’ phone lines and breaking into their house about 12:45 a.m. March 29, 1990, Sallie went to the master bedroom and shot John and Linda Moore, according to a Georgia Supreme Court summary of the case. John Moore died from his injuries, and his wife was injured.
Sallie then took his wife and her sister to his mobile home, leaving his son behind, the summary says. Sallie released his wife and her sister that night and was arrested a short time later.