|II. CASE SUMMARY:
In the Furman case:
“The victim surprised Furman in the act of burglarizing the victim’s home in the middle of the night. While escaping, Furman killed the victim with one pistol shot fired through the closed kitchen door from the outside. At the trial, Furman gave his version of the killing:
‘They got me charged with murder and I admit, I admit going to these folks’ home and they did caught me in there and I was coming back out, backing up and there was a wire down there on the floor. I was coming out backwards and fell back and I didn’t intend to kill nobody. I didn’t know they was behind the door. The gun went off and I didn’t know nothing about no murder until they arrested me, and when the gun went off I was down on the floor and I got up and ran. That’s all to it.’
The Georgia Supreme Court accepted that version:
‘The admission in open court by the accused…that during the period in which he was involved in the commission of a criminal act at the home of the deceased, he accidentally tripped over a wire in leaving the premises causing the gun to go off, together with other facts and circumstances surrounding the death of the deceased by violent means, was sufficient to support the verdict of guilty of murder…’
About Furman himself, the jury knew only that he was black and that, according to his statement at trial, he was 26 years old and worked at ‘Superior Upholstery.’ It took the jury one hour and 35 minutes to return a verdict of guilt and a sentence of death.”
In the Jackson case:
“Jackson, a black, convicted of the rape of a white woman, was 21 years old. A court-appointed psychiatrist said that Jackson was of average education and average intelligence, that he was not an imbecile, or schizophrenic, or psychotic, that his traits were the Product of environmental influences, and that he was competent to stand trial.
Jackson had entered the house after the husband left for work. He held scissors against the neck of the wife, demanding money. She could find none and a struggle ensued for the scissors, a battle which she lost; and she was then raped, Jackson keeping the scissors pressed against her neck. While there did not appear to be any long-term traumatic impact on the victim, she was bruised and abrased in the struggle but was not hospitalized.
Jackson was a convict who had escaped from a work gang in the area, a result of a three-year sentence for auto theft. He was at large for three days and during that time had committed several other offenses – burglary, auto theft, and assault and battery.”
In the Branch case:
“Branch, a black, entered the rural home of a 65-year-old widow, a white, while she slept and raped her, holding his arm against her throat. Thereupon he demanded money and for 30 minutes or more the widow searched for money, finding little. As he left, Jackson said if the widow told anyone what happened, he would return and kill her. The record is barren of any medical or psychiatric evidence showing injury to her as a result of Branch’s attack.
He had previously been convicted of felony theft and found to be a borderline mental deficient and well below the average IQ of Texas prison inmates. He had the equivalent of five and a half years of grade school education. He had a ‘dull intelligence’ and was in the lowest fourth percentile of his class.”
On certiorari, the US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Georgia.