23 October 2019 :
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ordered a new sentencing hearing for Lawrence Jefferson. Jefferson, now 64, Black, had been sentenced to death on March 17, 1986 in Cobb County for the May 1, 1985 beating death of his construction job supervisor, Edward Taulbee, 37. Although Jefferson had a visibly misshapen skull and scarring on his forehead from being run over by a car when he was two years old, the lawyers the county appointed to represent him failed to investigate evidence of brain damage. A defense psychologist recommended that Jefferson’s trial lawyers obtain a neuropsychological evaluation to assess Jefferson’s brain injury and mental health, but the lawyers ignored that advice. When an examination was conducted during Jefferson’s appeals, it disclosed significant evidence of brain damage that the 11th Circuit later described as “the most powerful explanation for an otherwise inexplicable crime.” A defense neurologist explained that “the most common thing with a closed head injury, traumatic injury of this sort, is problems with judgments, executive planning, and impulse control, the ability to foresee the consequences of your action in the future, as opposed to right now.” In 2010, the Supreme Court reversed and directed the federal courts to determine whether the state courts had provided Jefferson a full and fair hearing. After additional years of litigation, the district court ruled in 2017 (see April 10) that the state court hearing had not been full and fair and again found Jefferson’s penalty phase representation to have been ineffective. This time, the 11th Circuit agreed and, 33 years after Jefferson had been sent to death row, it granted him a new sentencing hearing.