After the ongoing death penalty trial of alleged courthouse shooter Brian Nichols, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard in Atlanta plans to seek the ultimate punishment in eight more murder trials, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In adjacent DeKalb County, District Attorney Gwen Keyes Fleming's office has three pending death penalty cases. Both counties have large African-American populations, and studies and opinion polls have found blacks more likely than whites to suspect bias in the criminal justice system and to oppose the death penalty. Howard and Keyes Fleming, both African-American prosecutors, argue that some cases are heinous enough to merit a death sentence. Howard's office won a death sentence this summer for a man who shot to death three people, including a child.
Howard said the county's jurors now are becoming “educated” on the appropriateness of the death penalty in heinous cases. “For a long time in our county, we never had a death penalty case at all, and we are at an early point in our county of asking our citizens to do that,” Howard said. An average of Gallup polls from 1991 to 1994 found 56 percent of blacks were in favor of the death penalty. That number had dropped to 40 percent by mid-2007 – still considerably higher than the 27 percent black support recorded in 1972. The Journal-Constitution surveyed 18 African-Americans in a training program for community leaders. Nine of the 18 said they were against the death penalty, four in favor and five undecided.