Published Friday, February 22, 2013

Gang membership could be reason for death penalty

By WALTER C. JONES

Morris News Service

ATLANTA – Prosecutors could use gang membership as a reason to ask juries to sentence a convicted murderer to lethal injection under legislation introduced Wednesday.

Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, introduced House Bill 355 which adds gang membership to the list of 12 “aggravating circumstances” juries can consider during sentencing in a capital case. Other examples include kidnapping and conspiracy.

Fleming said he also wants to add another circumstance in a future bill, torture.

“When I went to the gang prosecutors of the state and asked them ‘What changes do you need to better protect us from gangs,’ they gave me several things,” he said. “The easiest and most simple one was this to begin with.”

The bill draws on a definition of gang membership contained in a law he helped pass when he was in the House of Representatives earlier.

He believes the new bill will bring attention to a growing issue. He said experts estimate that as much as 90 percent of crime is connected to gangs.

Metro Atlanta has about 40 gangs, and other cities like Augusta could have half that many.

He expects opposition to his bill, especially from death-penalty opponents.

Larry Pellegrini, executive director of the Georgia Rural Urban Summit advocacy group, is already taking a stance against Fleming’s bill.

“Adding to the death penalty over the years has never been a solution to the problems of violence in society, and this is another misguided effort to look tough and feel tough and not do much,” Pellegrini said.

Fleming is considering sponsoring another bill that Pellegrini and other capital-punishment foes have opposed over the years. That bill would allow a judge to impose the death penalty even if the jury is not unanimous.

Fleming sponsored similar bills that passed the House in 2007 and 2008 but died in the Senate.

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