Judge: Death penalty can be sought in case of slain deputy Whitehead

A Bibb County judge has denied a defense motion that it would be unconstitutional for the men facing the death penalty in the slaying of a Bibb County deputy to be sentenced to die for killing someone they didn’t know was a deputy.

Superior Court Judge Tripp Self ruled Monday that the prosecution will still be allowed to seek the death penalty against Antron Fair, 25, and Damon Jolly, 23.

Both men are charged with murder in the March 23, 2006, shooting death of deputy Joseph Whitehead. Whitehead died while he was helping serve a “no knock” warrant at a house at 3135 Atherton St., off Montpelier Avenue.

In his ruling, Self explained that Georgia law requires prosecutors to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the presence of at least one of 11 “aggravating factors.” In the cases against Fair and Jolly, the prosecution is seeking the death penalty solely because Whitehead was killed while performing his official duties as a deputy.

The judge said the basis for seeking the death penalty in the two cases is constitutional because it “slightly furthers the state’s legitimate interest in protecting undercover police officers, thereby meeting the most minimum of constitutional standards,” according to the ruling.

After hearing about the ruling Monday, Brian Steele, Fair’s attorney, said he will “vigorously” appeal the decision to both the Georgia and U.S. supreme courts.

Prosecutor Kim Schwartz said the district attorney’s office still was reviewing the ruling late Monday afternoon. “It’s going to be important for us to review it carefully and see where we go from here,” she said.

In his ruling, Self wrote that his decision will be sent to the Georgia Supreme Court for review before trial.

During an August hearing, Doug Ramseur, another attorney representing Fair, argued that although it’s important to protect law enforcement officers, people aren’t deterred from killing officers if they don’t know they’re officers.

The defense has maintained that the law is too broad in allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty in the killing of any law enforcement officer who dies in the line of duty, regardless of whether a person knows that they are killing an officer.

Prosecutor Laura Murphree argued at the hearing that undercover police work is a prominent investigative tool.

She said people in the “drug world” know there are undercover officers and that if they shoot someone, they run the risk of having shot an officer.

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was included in this report.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.