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Capital punishment cases on the decline
No Hall County death sentences since 1999; 3 now sit on death row
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In 2011, 78 people convicted of murder were sentenced to die.

It's the first time in 35 years there have been fewer than 100 new death sentences, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Since executions resumed in the 1970s, new death sentences have declined 75 percent, according to the center.

"Any case on which the death penalty is sought has to have a statutory aggravating circumstance that would be connected with murder in order to make it eligible for the death penalty," Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh said.

"Without those you can not go forward. Certainly, there are other factors to consider including the strength of the evidence involved and other factors that are more intangible."

Death penalty cases can often cost several thousand dollars to pursue, but Darragh said that is hardly a factor in determining whether to seek capital punishment.

"The egregiousness of a case, along with the number of statutory aggravating circumstances and the strength of the evidence involved are the major factors to consider," he said.

The nation is also seeing fewer executions being carried out. The 43 executions in 2011 were roughly half as many as were carried out in 2000. The year 1998 was the busiest for U.S. death chambers since executions resumed in 1977 following a halt imposed by the Supreme Court; some 98 prisoners were put to death that year.

Currently three men from the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, which includes Hall and Dawson counties, sit on death row. All of their cases are in various stages of federal appeals.

The latest of those three to be sentenced was Scotty Garnell Morrow, 44, of Statham, who was convicted in 1999 for the December 1994 murders of Barbara Ann Young and Tonya Rochelle Woods and for aggravated battery of LaToya Horne.

After an argument over the phone, Morrow went to Young's home, where he shot Woods with a 9 mm handgun and then shot Horne in the arm. He then chased Young through the house before shooting her multiple times while her young son watched from a closet.

Morrow returned to the kitchen and fatally shot Woods and fired another shot into Horne's face. She survived, but with permanent injuries.

Earlier this year, a lower court ruled Morrow did not have adequate representation during sentencing and dismissed the death sentence. However, the Georgia Supreme Court reinstated the sentence in October.

David Scott Franks, 50, also sits on death row for a 1994 rampage in which he fatally stabbed 35-year-old Deborah Wilson and injured her two children, ages 13 and 9.

In 2005, Franks, along with two other death row inmates, were caught in a botched escape attempt in which the men received help stashing saw blades, knives, masks and other contraband in their cells.

The men were caught by guards at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson after two of them sawed through air vents in their cells but were unable to cut through a locked door leading to the prison yard.

Also awaiting execution is Tommy Lee Waldrip, 65, who was sentenced in 1994 in Dawson County for the 1991 beating and shooting death of 23-year-old Keith Lloyd Evans.

Evans was an eyewitness to a robbery Waldrip's son, John Mark Waldrip, and his brother-in-law, Howard Kelly Livingston, were accused of committing. John Mark Waldrip and Livingston were sentenced to life in prison for their part in the murder.

The controversial September execution of Troy Davis for the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer in Savannah has heightened scrutiny against death sentences.

The option of locking a convicted killer in prison for life without a chance of parole, as well as heightened awareness of the risks of executing the innocent, are leading to the decrease in death sentences, said Richard Dietor, the Death Penalty Information Center's executive director.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in one pending Hall County case.

Darragh said if the case against Reginald Coleman in the murder for hire of 45-year-old Richard Schoeck proceeds to trial, the death penalty will be sought.

Coleman is the accused triggerman in the 2010 Valentine's Day shooting of Schoeck. Schoeck's wife, Stacey, is accused of paying Coleman to kill her husband through a mutual friend.

Darragh said most other pending cases in Hall County don't fit the criteria to seek the death penalty.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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