Senate rejects death penalty study

ATLANTA - The Senate on Monday defeated a proposal to study the use of the death penalty in Georgia at a time when other states are considering moratoriums on capital punishment.

Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, appealed to his conservative colleagues by taking language out of his resolution that could have allowed a moratorium in Georgia.

In the well of the Senate, Fort described three Georgia cases where men were sentenced to die before the charges against them were thrown out when it was found that evidence had been tampered with or witnesses had lied.

While the Democrat said he is against capital punishment, he argued that those in favor of the death penalty could still vote on his bill "with a clear conscience'' because it simply would work to ensure that the right people are convicted of crimes.

"Making a mistake is an irreversible error," Fort said.

In Illinois, former Republican Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on capital punishment several years ago after discovering that more people on death row had been exonerated of their crimes than had been executed since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1977.

While no one debated Fort, his measure failed by a vote of 17 to 33.

After the vote, Sen. Don Balfour, chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus, said Georgia's criminal justice system already ensures that defendants sentenced to death are guilty.

"I'm obviously for the death penalty. I think it's used appropriately,'' said Balfour, R-Snellville. "We do quite a bit right now to make sure we are following up with people in the right manner.''