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Georgia's dysfunctional death penalty

Troy Davis' execution was the fifth scheduled this year. Each raises hard questions about the death penalty.

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To Bright, the way that prosecutors calculate aggravating circumstances can be completely out of whack. Some cases are far more death-penalty-eligible than others – and yet capital punishment isn't sought for those defendants.

"Look at all the people serving sentences for murder," he says. "They're not serving death sentences. And there certainly are more aggravated cases than these [death penalty ones]. It's totally arbitrary."

Twenty years after Moore's murder – and three weeks after the lethal injection ban was lifted – Lynd's last hope for clemency, the state Board of Pardons and Paroles, considered testimony from two witnesses who said the second gunshot wound, the one on the porch, likely killed Moore. By that logic, the kidnapping claim would be moot. And the murder would be far less "aggravated."

But the board was not persuaded. The request for clemency was denied. And the following day, May 6, Lynd was put to death – ushering in a new round of lethal injections nationwide, and a renewed vigor for executions in Georgia in particular.

Samuel David Crowe

Execution date: May 22

On a spring night in 1988, Samuel David Crowe drove his wife's car to Wickes Lumber Company in Douglasville. Crowe used to work there, and his wife still did. The store's manager, Joe Pala, was closing up shop. He let Crowe in.

A short while later, when Pala's back was turned, Crowe shot him. The bullet penetrated his lung. At some point, Crowe also beat him in the head with a paint can and a crowbar. Pala bled to death. Crowe grabbed the money that was in the shop – $1,160 – and fled.

Soon after, he was arrested. He confessed to the murder and agreed to plead guilty. A jury would decide whether he'd receive a sentence of life without parole or death. It chose the latter.

The case seemed fairly straightforward. But when Crowe's sentence was appealed, his new attorney, Mike Mears, unearthed some interesting allegations.

According to testimony presented during Mears' motion for a new trial, Crowe's motive wasn't robbery. It was revenge. Pala allegedly had been having an affair with Crowe's wife. Crowe only made it look like a robbery.

"That's terrible," says Mears, who as former head of the Georgia Multi-County Public Defenders' Office, monitored every capital case in the state. "But it's not a death penalty case."

But the real shocker was that then-Sheriff Earl Lee allegedly had told Crowe that if he fired his attorneys and pleaded guilty, the judge would spare him the death penalty. The sheriff even had Crowe call the judge at home to ask him himself –a call that Mears said he substantiated by pulling records of Crowe's phone calls from jail.

"I subpoenaed Earl Lee to the stand, and I asked him did he say that," Mears recalled. "And he said, 'Well, probably.'

"Then I put the judge on the stand. And I said, 'Judge, did you talk to David Crowe?' And he said, 'Yeah, I did. I thought it was somebody else, though. And I told him just do whatever the sheriff tells him to do and he'll be OK.'"

Crowe's death sentence was upheld.

Twenty years after the murder of Pala, Crowe's attorneys made one last attempt to save his life. On the morning of his execution date, they met with members of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles, which has the unusual power of being able to commute death sentences – in most states, the pardons and paroles board only issues recommendations to the governor. Crowe's attorneys presented evidence showing that their client was a model inmate who felt profound remorse for his crime.

The board keeps a lengthy file on every death row inmate. Once an execution date is set, the board typically meets with representatives for the condemned, as well as the district attorney's office that prosecuted the case, and the victim's family. Board members also interview the inmate. The meetings are closed to the public, to keep political pressure out of the process.

After hearing from both sides, each of the five board members casts a confidential vote to commute the sentence or allow the execution to go forward. Three votes or more determine an inmate's fate.

Three hours before Crowe was scheduled to die, the board voted to spare him. It was only the third death sentence, out of a total 24, to be commuted in Georgia since the mid-'90s.

No insight into the board's decision was offered, aside from a terse statement: "After careful and exhaustive consideration of the requests, the Board voted to grant clemency. The Board voted to commute the sentence to life without parole."

Mears believes the alleged promise made to Crowe by the sheriff, and not just Crowe's remorse and model behavior, helped build the case for clemency.

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