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
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
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'.
"THE KILLING OF WALLACE FUGATE LESSENS US ALL!"
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 ~