One University student would love to see the death penalty removed from Georgia, but with little support politically, chances for a change are slim.

Alec Watts, co-president of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty in Athens, was not always so vehement in his opposition to capital punishment.

"I was oblivious to how the system actually worked," he said.

For 18 months, the Georgia Death Penalty Assessment Team, which was created by the American Bar Association, has examined how the death penalty was administered in Georgia.

University law professor and assessment team member David Shipley said the group has no opinion on whether the death penalty should be overturned. He said the team is more concerned with making sure capital punishment is carried out as fairly as possible.

In January, the ABA released its findings and called for a moratorium on the death penalty to further explore discrepancies they found in the system.

One of the major areas of concern for the panel was the standard for treatment of mentally retarded defendants on death row.

According to the ABA report, out of 26 states that prohibit the execution of the mentally retarded, Georgia is the only state that requires the defendant to prove his retardation beyond a reasonable doubt.

Shipley also pointed to legal representation as an area of concern.

The prosecution is often able to afford high profile attorneys, whereas the public defender system doesn't always provide adequate counsel, he said.

"We need to level the playing field," he said.

State senator Brian Kemp (R-Athens) doesn't think a moratorium is needed.

Defendants on death row are getting the full representation afforded to them under the law, he said.

Shipley also noticed a correlation between race and death row convictions.

"Those suspected of killing whites are 4.56 times as likely to be sentenced to death as those who are suspected of killing blacks," according to the ABA report.

The race of the defendant did not alter the statistic, Shipley said.

In late February, Democratic state senator Vincent Fort introduced Senate Bill 600, calling for a moratorium on the death penalty in Georgia.

The legislation has failed to gain momentum in the Georgia General Assembly.

"That bill was ridiculous," Kemp said.

Watts said he was not surprised the moratorium proposal received little support.

"A great deal of people think the death penalty is needed to keep society safe," he said. "There are plenty of ways to keep the streets safe without putting someone to death."

Fort said he would turn his attention to Senate Resolution 1030, which aims to create a Georgia Capital Punishment Study Commission. If created, the commission also would call for the suspension of executions in Georgia.

The resolution was approved by the Senate Judiciary 5-4 committee.

"A lot of people didn't give (the resolution) a chance," he said. "But it managed to make it out of a Republican committee, which is a good sign."

Heather Hedrick, spokeswoman for Gov. Perdue, said the governor did not support the moratorium.

"We think the system works as it is," she said.

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