Fulton County, Ga., prosecutors believe some defendants have found an unfair way to avoid the death penalty, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Some murder suspects are opting for bench trials, where a judge makes the call, instead of facing a 12-member jury of their peers. Murder defendant De’Kelvin Martin’s attorneys felt they had a better shot at mercy from the judge. Martin is accused in a 2002 stabbing rampage that killed his estranged girlfriend’s son and her parents. The case appears so solid that Martin was ready to plead guilty to triple murder charges. He was even willing to agree to spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole to dodge a possible death sentence. Then prosecutors stepped in and persuaded Fulton Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan to halt the plea. They say this is a textbook case for when the death penalty is appropriate and a jury trial warranted.
Tusan agreed to the defense’s request that she alone decide Martin’s fate. “He’s incredibly remorseful and didn’t mean for this to happen,” said Martin’s lead attorney, Tom West. “He just flipped out. He’s accepted full responsibility, and he’s willing to spend the rest of his life in prison.” Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard fears Tusan has already decided to spare Martin’s life, so asked her to step down from the case. “Our belief is that in every case, particularly in a case as heinous as the De’Kelvin Martin case, the citizens of the community ought to have a chance to decide the punishment of the defendant,” Howard said.