Attorney General Thurbert Baker announced that his office had successfully defended on appeal to the Eleventh Court of Appeals in Atlanta the denial of federal habeas corpus relief to Emanuel Hammond who received the death penalty for the 1988 kidnapping and murder of preschool teacher Julie Love. While Hammond can move to reconsider the November 4, 2009 order of the 11th Circuit, only that or an appeal to the United States Supreme Court remains before an execution date can be set for Hammond in the Superior Court of Fulton County.

The Eleventh Circuit rejected Hammond's arguments that Hammond's defense attorney provided ineffective assistance at trial. The federal appeals court agreed with the arguments made by the Attorney General’s office and found that Hammond had failed to establish that there were any constitutional problems with either his conviction or his death sentence. The appellate court also rejected Hammond’s arguments that he was harmed by not receiving additional information from the Fulton County prosecution team prior to his trial.

Baker, in announcing the appellate victory, stated that he was pleased that the state “was close to seeing justice done in this case. Hammond is a violent, career criminal who fully deserves the death penalty for this senseless and heinous crime.”

The federal appeals court decision confirms the heinous nature of Hammond’s crimes. Not only does the opinion describe the terror and torture that Hammond subjected Love to during the kidnapping, but also describing how forensic reconstruction of Love’s skull had demonstrated that Hammond had killed Love with a close-up blast from his twelve-gauge sawed-off shotgun. Hammond even bragged to his accomplices of the destructive results of the shotgun blast after his execution style murder of Julie Love. After describing a 1982 kidnapping that Hammond had participated in but in which he failed to kill the victim, the appeals court stated that, from the evidence in the record, “this was the last time [Hammond’s] conscience would make an appearance.” A copy of the 11th Circuit's opinion can be found here.

Once an inmate has been convicted of a capital crime and sentenced to death, the defendant can institute a direct appeal of his conviction and sentence, first to the Georgia Supreme Court and then to the United States Supreme Court. After a direct appeal has been concluded, a death row inmate can then institute habeas corpus proceedings, which are challenges to the constitutionality of the underlying conviction. The first habeas process involves a state habeas challenge, filed in state superior court, with appeals taken to the Georgia Supreme Court and then to the United States Supreme Court. The second habeas process involves a federal habeas challenge, filed in federal district court, with appeals taken to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and then to the United States Supreme Court. After conclusion of the federal habeas process, the trial court, in this case the Fulton County Superior Court, together with the commissioner of the Department of Corrections, would set an execution date for the death row inmate. Today’s decision is the second step in the federal habeas process, and signals that Hammond’s challenges to his conviction and sentence are drawing to a close.