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Athens DA Appoints Special Prosecutor in Laken Riley Murder Case Amid Cries for Death Penalty


The Gist: Athens District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez has enlisted Sheila Ross from the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council to lead the prosecution in the Laken Riley case, amid a contentious debate over the death penalty.

The Details: The tragic death of Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student found on the University of Georgia campus, has led to the arrest of Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, on charges including malice murder and felony murder. Ibarra was in the United States illegally.

The decision by Gonzalez to appoint a special prosecutor comes after her 2021 policy against the death penalty sparked Republican calls for its application in this case as well as questions about whether or not Gonzalez is qualified to try the case.

Sheila Ross, known for her trial expertise, has been tasked with ensuring justice for Riley and her family.

The Big Picture: This case has reignited debates over the death penalty in Georgia, highlighting the tension between prosecutorial discretion and political pressures in high-profile criminal justice cases.

Questions to Consider:

  • How will the involvement of a special prosecutor influence the legal strategy and potential outcomes of the case?
  • What does this case reveal about the current state of the death penalty debate in Georgia and potentially beyond?
  • What other motivating factors could Gonzalez’s opponents have for questioning her qualifications to try this particular case?


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