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Furman v. Georgia: 1972

Furman Sentenced To Death, Court Severely Restricts Death Penalty, Suggestions For Further Reading

Appellant & Defendant: William Henry Furman
Appellee & Plaintiff: State of Georgia
Appellant Claim: That the Georgia death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments
Chief Defense Lawyers: Dorothy T. Beasley, Arthur K. Bolton, Harold N. Hill, Jr., Andrew J. Ryan, Jr., Andrew J. Ryan, Ill and Courtney Wilder Stanton
Chief Lawyers for Plaintiff: Anthony G. Amsterdam, Elizabeth B. Dubois, Jack Greenberg, Jack Himmelstein, B. Clarence Mayfield, and Michael Meltsner
Justices: Harry A. Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Jr., Warren E. Burger, William 0. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William H. Rehnquist, Potter Stewart, and Byron R. White
Place: Washington, D.C.
Date of Decision: June 29, 1972
Decision: Georgia death penalty statute declared unconstitutional

SIGNIFlCANCE: Although Furman v. Georgia did not completely abolish the death penalty, it placed stringent requirements on death penalty statutes.

On the night of August 11, 1967, 29-year-old William Joseph Micke, Jr., came home from work to his wife and five children in the city of Savannah, Georgia. He went to bed around midnight. Two hours later, the Mickes were awakened by strange noises in the kitchen. Thinking that one of his children was sleepwalking, William Micke went into the kitchen to investigate. He found William Henry Furman there, a 26-year-old black man who had broken into the house and was carrying a gun. Furman fled the house, shooting Micke as he left. The bullet hit Micke in the chest and he died instantly. Micke's family promptly called the police, who arrived on the scene within minutes. The police searched the neighborhood and found Furman, who was still carrying the murder weapon.

Furman was charged with murder and was tried in the Superior Court of Chatham County, Georgia, on September 20, 1968. Furman was a poor man, and he got a poor man's trial. His court-appointed lawyer, B. Clarence Mayfield, received the court-approved standard retainer for murder cases: $150, which did not include costs. The trial lasted just one day: the jury was selected at 10:00 AM., the evidence was presented and the judge's instructions to the jury given by 3:30 P.M., and the jury's guilty verdict was returned at 5:00 P.M.

Long before the trial, the court committed Furman to the Georgia Central State Hospital at Milledgeville for psychological examination. Furman had dropped out of school after the sixth grade, and he tested in the lowest 4 percent of the test's intelligence range. The hospital diagnosed Furman as being mentally deficient and subject to psychotic episodes. Nevertheless, the court denied Furman's insanity plea at trial.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972