The defense for accused murderer Lanny Barnes will find out today whether they have succeeded in their efforts to make the death penalty unconstitutional in Georgia.
Judge Gene Benton will hear final testimony today for motion 98, which questions the way jurors make decisions about sentencing in death penalty cases.
Paul Casola, uncle, father and husband to the five victims, said the hearing was a misuse of time and money.
"If they had had someone they loved brutally killed, they wouldn't be wasting time," Casola said.
For the second day in a row, Dr. Wanda Foglia of the Capital Jury Project will take the stand to testify for the defense. The CJP is a research program focusing on the decision-making of jurors in capital murder cases.
The testimonies of both Foglia and the director of the CJP Dr. William Bowers are under objection from Newton County District Attorney Ken Wynne. Wynne argued the CJP study, which is based on interviews with former jurors, was unconstitutional because the jurors were not present to be cross-examined.
The DA also noted that even if the jurors were present, under law they cannot be questioned under oath about their verdicts. Benton will decide after all testimony whether to sustain Wynne's objection.
Foglia spent most of Thursday in the witness seat as she offered testimony and a Power Point presentation on the CJP's findings. The group's research has identified five major problems with jurors in past capital cases.
Foglia said the study revealed a large percentage of jurors were violating the constitution by prematurely deciding if the murder should be given a death sentence or given life without parole. Jurors are told to decide only during the sentencing phase what the person's punishment will be.
The study also found jurors are tainted by the process of "death qualification," Foglia said. The term refers to the jury selection process of capital cases. During this process, possible jurors who say their verdict could be affected by their beliefs about the death penalty are removed from the panel. Foglia said studies have proven that by simply putting jurors through the process, they are more likely to choose a death sentence.
Foglia also argued the "death qualification" only roots out the potential jurors who are not in favor of the death penalty, while not excluding those who think the death penalty is the only answer for murder.
The CJP found a lack of understanding of the different sentencing options by the jury, Foglia said. The study found many jurors thought if they sentenced a person to a life sentence without the possibility of parole, the convict could still be released at a later date. Under life without parole, a convicted person will serve the rest of their natural life in prison.
Foglia's last point centered on the propensity for jurors to give a harsher sentence based on race. The study found a black person accused of killing a white person will receive the death penalty more often than if the races had been the same.
In September, Wynne announced he would seek the death penalty against Barnes, who stands accused of running over and killing 2-year-old Avery King with his car and severely injuring mother Anita King, aunt Stephanie Casola, 5-year old cousin Jacob Casola and 4-year-old cousin Isaac Casola.
The families of both Barnes and King were in attendance for the hearing on Wednesday and Thursday.
The CJP study is based on surveys of 1,198 jurors, which were conducted in 14 states. The surveys of these jurors, who heard a combined 353 capital murder cases, were taken in 1991, Bowers said.