ATLANTA — Nicholas Cody Tate could delay his execution at the end of this month for years if he filed a new round of appeals. But his refusal to do so has made his death sentence for the murders of two people one of the fastest-moving in recent memory in Georgia.
In the glacial-paced world of death penalty law, Tate's death sentence for the 2001 killings of a woman and her 3-year-old daughter moved through the appeals process quickly. That's because he refused to challenge his conviction and sentence by filing a habeas appeals in state or federal court.
His current and former attorneys won't comment on why Tate, who is 31, won't let them file the appeal. But the transcript from a 2009 court hearing helps illuminate his thoughts on the process.
"You caught me red-handed," he said during the hearing, when he waived his motion for a new trial. "None of my rights were violated ... I choose to waive any and all future appeals."
A Paulding County judge last week cleared the way for his execution, and state officials on Tuesday scheduled the lethal injection for Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. Death penalty opponents say Tate's case highlights the problems with capital punishment.
"The appeals process exists as a safeguard to protect the integrity of the judicial process," said Kathryn Hamoudah, who chairs Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. "Proceeding without is tantamount to allowing state assisted suicide."
According to court records, Nicholas Tate and two of his younger brothers, Dustin and Chad, purchased ammo, duct tape and knives at a local sporting goods store in December 2001 and then plotted to use the weapons to burglarize the home of Chrissie Williams, who they believed had a stash of drugs and money.
When they arrived at the home, Chrissie's 3-year-old daughter Katelyn answered the door, and chaos ensued. The men tried to knock Chrissie out with a stun gun, but when she didn't lose consciousness they taped her mouth and eyes shut and handcuffed her hands to a bed.
They moved Katelyn to another room, where Nicholas Tate removed her pajamas and sexually assaulted her. Nicholas Tate, who prosecutors say led the plot, ordered Chad to silence the girl because she recognized him. Chad Tate unsuccessfully tried to strangle her with a telephone cord, and he then used Nicholas' knife to slit her throat.
Dustin Tate fled the house in fear. Nicholas Tate put a seat cushion over Chrissie's head as she lay bound to the bed, firing one shot through the pillow to kill her.
The three brothers then fled Georgia and traveled to Mississippi where they captured a 23-year-old woman from a gas station where she worked and forced her into an SUV. The three later released the woman but kept her car as they sped toward Oklahoma.
The Tate brothers abandoned their weapons at a motel and drove to El Reno, which is about 30 miles outside of Oklahoma City. They then contacted their parents in Dallas, Ga., who helped them negotiate their surrender to police.
Nicholas Tate pleaded guilty to murder charges in November 2005 and was sentenced to death a month later. His brothers also admitted to committing the violence. They are serving life sentences in prison.
Nicholas Tate filed a motion for a new trial in 2006, but three years later he had a change of heart. That's when he said he wanted to waive all future appeals, and a trial judge accepted his request, nothing that he was coherent and articulate.
His attorneys went ahead with a direct appeal, asking the Georgia Supreme Court to overturn the sentence. Among the arguments they made was that the punishment was disproportionate because neither of his two brothers were sentenced to death.
But the court's June 2010 ruling rejected that argument along with the others in upholding the death sentence. The court ruled that Chad Tate, who was 15 at the time of the killings, wasn't eligible for the death penalty and that Dustin Tate's life was spared because he was neither the killer nor the "driving force" behind the victims' deaths.