Statement of Stephen B. Bright
Regarding the Execution of Wallace Fugate

August 16, 2002 – Wallace Fugate died today as a result of massive failures in Georgia’s legal system.

Mr. Fugate, a carpenter, was unable to afford a lawyer. So William Prior, a Superior Court judge, assigned two court-appointed lawyers who represented him no better than a couple of plumbers would have.

His death penalty trial lasted a mere two days- much shorter than many trials for petty crimes. The trial of Sidney Dorsey went on for six weeks – more than twenty times longer that Mr. Fugate’s trial and the State was not even seeking the death penalty.

Wallace Fugate’s sentencing hearing lasted just 27 minutes, about the length of a TV sitcom. But this was not a comedy. It was a tragic farce. No person would buy a house or a car based on a 27-minute presentation, but a jury sentenced Wallace Fugate to death on such a presentation.

In the last 30 years, there have been hundreds – perhaps thousands – of cases similar to Fugate’s in which Georgia prosecutors did not seek the death penalty. Some of those cases were resolved with verdicts of manslaughter and sentences of imprisonment with parole eligibility. But in another failure in the Fugate case, the Georgia Supreme Court conducted only a cursory proportionality review and did not look at any of the scores of far more aggravated cases in which death was not imposed.

The state and federal courts upheld Mr. Fugate’s conviction and sentence even though one of his lawyers was so ignorant of the law that he was featured in Harpers magazine.

The case ended with the Board of Pardons and Paroles denying clemency after a star-chamber proceeding in which it received unsubstantiated accusations and rumors about Mr. Fugate that he had no chance to deny.

Once again, Mr. Fugate’s poverty was a critical factor, just as it had at the very start, when he was unable to afford lawyers and was assigned court-appointed lawyers. Mr. Fugate and his family were not able to make a big campaign contribution to a public official who would champion his case at the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Georgians should be aghast that this shoddy process – flawed from start to finish – lead to a person being killed in the name of the people of Georgia. This is not about whether one is for or against capital punishment. It is about basic fairness and equal treatment.

At one point during this case, the Assistant Attorney General representing Georgia said, “there might be a better way to do it, but better isn't the legal standard." – a shocking indictment of our system that determines whether a person lives or dies.

Today, the Georgia legal system has agreed that “close enough for government work” is acceptable. It has said that the rule of law and the right to a lawyer are meaningless for those who cannot afford to pay the price for a 'real lawyer'.


Buck's family will forever be grateful for all the work and support his lawyers
from the Southern Center for Human Rights gave to him.
(from l-r: Palmer Singleton, Stephen Bright and Sanjay Chhablani)

~ Click On His Photo To Return To Wallace's Home Page ~