High court to decide on limiting death row appeals

June 2, 1996
Web posted at: 9:30 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Anthony Collings


STATESBORO, Georgia (CNN) -- On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on whether a law intended to speed up executions actually deprives death row inmates of their rights. The case grew out of a brutal murder in Statesboro, Georgia, in 1981.

Joy Ludlam, a waitress in the small town near Macon, was raped and murdered while out looking for a better job to earn college tuition money. Even today, her mother can't forget.

"For someone to brutalize her as they did, it just hurts," says Patricia Ludlam.

Ludlam's mother

What also hurts, she says, is that the man sentenced to death for murdering her daughter remains alive.

"It's just drained me because I've prayed that I would get to see him executed," she says.

For 13 years, convicted murderer Wayne Felker has avoided execution by lodging repeated appeals. Last month, only two hours before he was to die in Georgia's electric chair, Felker won a stay of execution.


Ironically, it happened because of a dispute over the new law designed to speed up executions. Felker got the stay after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear his challenge to the new law, which closes the door to some federal appeals.

"Especially in a case like this one where Mr. Felker is actually innocent of this crime, the United States Supreme Court must have some ability to consider his case," says Felker's attorney, Stephen Bayliss.

Felker says that during his trial the state made a mistake about the time of death of the victim. He claims that cutting back on appeals unfairly deprives him of a chance to prove his innocence.

Georgia, backed by the Clinton administration, denies the law is unfair.

"All it does is keeps Felker from abusing the system by continually delaying the carrying out of justice," Georgia Attorney General Michael Bowers says.

The law makes it harder for the nation's 3,000 death row inmates to get more than one federal review. And the law passed by Congress cuts back on some of the historic power of the Supreme Court itself.

"I really doubt that the Supreme Court of the United States wants to invite the Congress to begin cutting away at the court's jurisdiction," says Larry Yackle of the Boston University Law School.

With the death penalty hanging over his head, Felker hopes the Supreme Court won't give up its power to review cases such as his.

"It's a matter of life or death, essentially," says Bayliss.

But members of Ludlam's family hope the court will uphold the new law and put Felker on a faster track to execution.

"It's a process of healing," says her mother. "It can close a chapter in their life."


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