Despite the Porter court’s reference to a “long tradition of according leniency to veterans,” in the criminal legal system, veterans are overrepresented on death rows across America, including Georgia’s. Most of these veterans come to death row with experiences of marginalization due to other aspects of their identity, such as race or mental disability.
This Article examines the cases of six men executed in Georgia, each with a history of military service, and each with experiences of disenfranchisement based on race and/or mental disability. At trial, each confronted legal risks that disproportionately place Black people and people with mental disabilities in danger of execution. In no case did a trial attorney present meaningful evidence of military service to a jury. The State of Georgia executed all six men between 1994 and 2016.
The Court clarified in Porter that military service carries mitigating weight even and perhaps especially when the veteran on trial falls outside the popular image of the “American hero.” Through case studies of the six Georgia veterans sentenced to death, this Article demonstrates that: (i) many veterans share experiences of disenfranchisement based on race and/or mental disability, and (ii) when charged capitally, these veterans face heightened risk of execution, as the death penalty system targets people with these experiences. The Article concludes with a call to defense counsel to adopt mitigation strategies responsive to the heightened risk of execution that Black veterans and veterans with mental disabilities face. Only through such strategies may counsel effectuate Porter’s promise to protect veterans from the death penalty.