Georgia high court declines to hear condemned man’s appeal
ATLANTA (AP) — After temporarily halting an execution last week, the Georgia Supreme Court declined on Tuesday to hear a condemned man’s appeal or block a new plan to give him a lethal injection next week.
Ray Jefferson Cromartie, 52, is scheduled to be put to death Nov. 13 at the state prison in Jackson. He was convicted of malice murder and sentenced to death for the April 1994 killing of 50-year-old convenience store clerk Richard Slysz in Thomasville, in south Georgia.
The state says Cromartie also shot and seriously injured another convenience store clerk a few days earlier. Cromartie maintains he didn’t shoot either clerk, and his lawyers have pushed for DNA testing of evidence they say will prove that.
After a trial court judge in September rejected the defense request for DNA testing and a new trial, Cromartie’s lawyers on Oct. 11 asked the state Supreme Court for permission to appeal that ruling. While that request was pending, an execution order signed by the trial court judge was filed Oct. 16 and state officials set the execution for Oct. 30.
About eight hours before the execution was to be conducted, the state Supreme Court issued an order temporarily halting it. The justices said it appeared the execution order may have been void because the application for appeal was pending and the high court, not the trial court in Thomas County, had jurisdiction over the case at the time.
The state conceded that the execution order was void. Since the state Supreme Court had declined to hear the appeal on the motion for a new trial and DNA testing a few days earlier, the state on Nov. 1 secured a new execution order and set the execution for Nov. 13.
Cromartie actually had another appeal application still pending before the state Supreme Court when the new order was filed. That application sought to appeal a judge’s order rejecting a petition filed in Butts County, where the prison housing death row is located.
That petition challenged the constitutionality of his death sentence, arguing that his trial lawyers and first set of post-conviction attorneys were ineffective.
His trial attorneys failed to present evidence of a traumatic and abusive childhood and resulting mental health issues that could have made a difference in the sentencing phase of his trial, and his first post-conviction attorneys failed to raise that in post-conviction proceedings, the petition argued.
Because that appeal application was pending, his lawyers argued in a filing with the state Supreme Court Monday that the second execution order should also be void.
State lawyers disagreed, saying that the pending appeal application only meant no action could be taken in that particular case filed in Butts County while it was pending before the Supreme Court. But the judge in Thomas County who signed the execution order was not affected by that, they argued.
The Supreme Court, in an order Tuesday, declined to hear the appeal of the ineffective counsel argument, saying it was procedurally barred and also rejecting the merits of the arguments. The high court also rejected a request to stay next week’s execution and declined to find the second execution order void.
That would seem to clear the way for Cromartie to be executed next week.
Cromartie would be the third prisoner executed in Georgia this year. The state says it uses an injection of the sedative pentobarbital to put inmates to death.