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March 01, 2017

Former Georgia Death Row Prisoner Receives Life without Parole Sentence

On February 17, 2017, a Fulton County, Georgia trial court resentenced former death row prisoner Norris Speed to life without the possibility of parole. Mr. Speed was sentenced to death in 1993 for killing a police officer. Mr. Speed was 22 years old at the time of the crime and insisted that the officer had stolen $20,000 in drugs and cash when he took part in a police raid on Mr. Speed’s mother’s apartment. The jury quickly returned a conviction and death sentence in Mr. Speed’s case.

In 2001, the New York and Palo Alto offices of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP joined together to represent Mr. Speed in his capital post-conviction proceedings. Sullivan attorneys uncovered evidence that the bailiff at his trial had improperly communicated with the jury and counseled them on biblical verse relating to capital punishment. In 2010, more than 16 years after being sentenced to death, a Georgia trial court vacated Mr. Speed’s death sentence as a result of this evidence, and relief was upheld by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2011.

It took nearly seven years after Mr. Speed’s sentence was reversed before a court scheduled his case for a new sentencing hearing. At that time, prosecutors agreed not to seek a new death sentence in exchange for Mr. Speed accepting the sentence of life without parole.