Death Sentence Unlikely to Be Carried Out Soon

O'Kelley in court.
O'Kelley in court.

Yesterday's sentencing of murderer Dorian O'Kelley to death sets in motion what could be a very long and complicated series of appeals. Many convicted murders sit on death row for years, even decades, before the state executes them, commutes their sentences, or sets them free on appeal.

We sat down with an attorney to sort out this process. It's likely going to be a tangle of appeals and petitions that stay out of the public eye until defense attorneys begin exhausting all their options.

"The law requires me to schedule your execution," Judge James Bass told O'Kelley yesterday. "Therefore I order that my sentence be carried out between the hours of noon, December 13, 2005 and noon, December 20, 2005."

The chance of that happening is extremely unlikely. "Somebody that receives the ultimate sentence is going, in most cases, to exhaust all of the avenues afforded him in the appellate process," explained attorney Michael Schiavone.

Schiavone can't talk about this case specifically, but we talked with him about what happens after a death sentence is handed down in general. It usually starts with a direct appeal for a new trial, which can go up to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

If that's unsuccessful, defense attorneys can file a habeas corpus petition at the state level and federal level if necessary. The next step would be a writ of certiorari to the US Supreme Court.

Of course the most publicly recognized effort is usually the last ditch appeal to the governor.

This entire process can take a very long time for a number of reasons. "All the judges are dealing with their own caseloads,  hundreds of cases in their own jurisdictions," explained Schiavone. "You're dealing with hundreds of lawyers, trial calendars. The burden on the court system is enormous."

O'Kelley's makes the third death sentence handed down in Chatham County since 1991, and both of the other men--Joseph Williams and Troy Davis--are still on death row working through this process.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite,