A recipe for the death penalty?

One stolen car, two alleged killer prostitutes and three dead johns

When a brown Chevy Lumina carrying three women and a cachet of drugs careened past a patrol car on I-75, a bizarre criminal history was born for the girl in the front seat — a rap sheet that would graduate within weeks to multiple murders.

The cop pulled over the Chevy and approached the 24-year-old driver, according to an Atlanta Police incident report filed that day, July 30, 2002. As the woman handed him the papers for the rental car, marijuana shake tumbled out. The officer turned to the 18-year-old passenger, Falicia Blakely, to ask if she knew of any drugs in the car. She said yes, according to the report. She had Ecstasy in her purse.

But the more disturbing of the cop's discoveries, which also included crack rock and powder cocaine folded into dollar bills, was this: "Upon first glance inside the pocketbook I noticed a pistol."

Blakely and the driver — both of whom had clean criminal records, the cop's report states — were arrested. A woman in the back seat was let go. And so began an alleged series of crimes that would culminate in a dubious distinction for Blakely: She is one of the few women in Georgia against whom prosecutors have sought the death penalty. There is only one woman on Georgia's death row, and none has been executed here since the 1940s.

Two weeks after Blakely's arrest on I-75, three men were shot to death a day apart in two apartments. Police caught Blakely and a friend, Ameshia Ervin, driving one of the men's cars. The two racked up a laundry list of felonies, among them an armed robbery at Mrs. Winner's and the men's murders. Police say the women prostituted themselves, luring the men with sex and killing them for money.

The first two victims, Claudell Christmas, 35, and Raymond Goodwin, 34, were killed together Aug. 15.

Christmas was once considered one of Georgia's most wanted criminals. In 1998, he kidnapped a woman at gunpoint in Lilburn. Later that year, a police informant ratted on him, and an Atlanta cop found in his car more than 9 ounces of cocaine — with a street value of more than $100,000. Atlanta police arrested Goodwin, a convicted felon, with carrying a concealed weapon in 2000.

On Aug. 17, 29-year-old Lemetrius Twitty was shot to death at his Clarkston apartment, police say. Twitty, a barber originally from Ohio, had a close brush with violent crime in 2000, when he saw two of his friends stabbed to death at a post-Super Bowl party. NFL star Ray Lewis and two other men were charged with their deaths. Twitty was a witness for the prosecution. Lewis and the other defendants walked free.

When prosecutors decided this month to push for the death penalty against Blakely, a punishment seldom sought against women, it may have marked a philosophic shift for the usually demure DeKalb District Attorney's Office. The office has been conservative in initiating capital cases. The DA didn't even seek the death penalty for the diabolical former sheriff Sidney Dorsey, who assassinated his reform-minded successor.

On the other hand, the decision in the Blakely case might indicate that the office considers her an aberration in the population of murderesses. No trial date has been set.

"Women tend not to commit the crimes that are normally the focus of the death penalty, such as crimes that involve horrific cruelty," says Mike Mears, local death penalty expert and head of the Multi-County Public Defenders Office. But what about women who do commit such crimes? It used to be that even the most unscrupulous femme fatale would be buffered from the ultimate punishment by her sex. That's becoming less and less common, says Mears.

"Years ago, there would be a kind of natural sympathy that women might expect to get from jurors," says Mears. "I think that society has been exposed to so much homicide through the fictional shows and the reality shows that the safety women had is probably not there anymore.

"I think women have tended to take their licks with the men these days. It's a byproduct of a gender-equal justice system."

By that logic, women like Aileen Wournos, who used sex to lure seven men to their deaths in Florida, can be considered a sort of pioneer for women's lib. Wournos, who said she would kill again if set free, was executed last year.

"There are some eerie similarities," forensic psychologist John Stuart Currie says of Wournos and Blakely.

Perhaps. The two women might have employed similar tactics to corner their victims — that is, if Blakely is guilty of her alleged crimes. Wournos, however, neatly fit the definition of serial killer. She was a prostitute who killed methodically — not for money, but for reasons likely stemming from a mental illness that steered her toward violence.

Blakely, a troubled teenager with an apparent hunger for hard drugs and a proclivity for bad decisions, might be different.

No one can say why she and Ervin did what they're alleged to have done. But drug use, immaturity or years of abuse may have played a role, experts say. "It would be very rare for a woman to deliberately plan to murder people without some unusual reason," says James Merikangas, director of neuropsychiatry at Georgetown University and an outspoken critic of the death penalty.

"This did not happen in a vacuum," says Ken Driggs, one of Blakely's public defenders.

Driggs says Blakely, who's from Jacksonville, Fla., came to Atlanta when she was 15. Armed with a fake ID, she began dancing in strip clubs. (The fake ID is the reason she's been miscast by the media as a 24-year-old; the Atlanta cop who found the gun in her purse also lists her age as 24 in his report.)

Driggs calls Blakely a "poster child" for all that can go wrong in a young woman's life. He says part of her defense will hinge on softening her one-dimensional image as a remorseless killer prostitute — a depiction inaccurately projected by police and the prosecution.

"[DeKalb DA] J. Tom Morgan's office has been kind of a pioneer for protecting children from sexual predators," Driggs says. "And quite frankly, a lot of what has happened in our client's life are the things that Mr. Morgan has made it a priority to protect children from."