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Bill Rankin's Legal Brief

The AJC's blog about the courts, crime and law

Once again, Georgia jury declines to give death sentence

For the second time this year, a defendant accused of killing a Georgia law enforcement officer faced a capital trial and did not receive a death sentence.

On Wednesday, after just 30 minutes of deliberation, a jury sentenced Christopher

Calmer to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the Sept. 14, 2014, fatal shooting of Monroe County sheriff's deputy Michael Norris.

No Georgia jury has imposed a death sentence in more than three years. The last capital sentence was handed down in March 2014 by a Richmond County jury.

In the only other death-penalty trial this year, Michael Bowman was convicted of killing off-duty Griffin police officer Kevin Jordan in May 2014. But after jurors found Bowman to be guilty but mentally ill, prosecutors chose to no longer pursue a death sentence and allowed Bowman to be sentenced to life without parole.

There were three death-penalty trials -- two in Fulton County and one in Newton County -- in 2016, but in all cases the defendants received sentences of life without parole.

In the Monroe County case, Norris, 24, and another deputy went to Calmer's home in response to a suicide call. After the deputies arrived, they exchanged gunfire with Calmer. Norris, who was shot, was later taken off life support after being declared brain dead.

On Tuesday, the jury, comprised of residents of neighboring Upson County, found Calmer guilty of Norris's murder. They reached their sentence after hearing mitigation testimony presented by his legal team, led by state capital defender Amber Pittman.

Jerry Word, who heads Georgia's capital defender office, said jurors were told  Calmer suffered from depression and chronic back pain.

"It was a combination of his mental illness and the fact Mr. Calmer had been a model citizen up to that point and was described as a model inmate after his arrest," Word said, when asked why he thought the jury declined to impose a death sentence.





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About the Author

Bill Rankin covers criminal justice, the death penalty and legal affairs. He also hosts the AJC’s “Breakdown” podcast.