Georgia legislators have began lining up to introduce bills eliminating the requirement that juries be unanimous for a death sentence, days after Atlanta mass murderer Brian Nichols got a life sentence instead of condemnation when three jurors declined to vote for executioin. Hard-on-crime lawmakers have long favored easier rules on death sentencing, but the Nichols sentence has given new urgency to their cause. “Unfortunately, you have people who say they're willing to consider the death penalty, but when they get on a jury, it becomes clear that they're actually death penalty opponents,” said Representative Barry A. Fleming, a Harlem Republican who twice sponsored efforts to revoke the unanimity requirement.
Jurors in the Nichols trial reported that one juror was so opposed to the death penalty that she plugged her ears with earphones and solved a crossword puzzle during the sentencing phase, said Paul Howard, the district attorney of Fulton County. It is not clear that the proposal can withstand a constitutional challenge. Even critics of the death penalty worried about the message sent by the Nichols sentence. “This case shows how arbitrary and irrational the death penalty can be,” said Richard C. Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “People shake their heads when they hear that someone got the death penalty for robbing a 7-Eleven, and Brian Nichols got life in prison for his heinous crimes.”