Georgia sets execution for man convicted 45 years ago

April 27, 2022 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia man convicted of killing an 8-year-old girl and raping a 10-year-old girl more than 45 years ago is scheduled to be executed next month, state officials said.

Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Timothy Ward announced in a Wednesday news release that Virgil Delano Presnell Jr. is to be put to death at 7 p.m. on May 17 at the state prison in Jackson. Presnell, 68, is accused of abducting and attacking the two girls as they walked home from school in Cobb County, just outside Atlanta, on May 4, 1976.

He was convicted in August 1976 on charges including malice murder, kidnapping and rape and was sentenced to death. His death sentence was overturned in 1992 but was reinstated in March 1999.

Presnell staked out a Cobb County elementary school on May 3, 1976, and saw a 10-year-old girl walking home on a wooded trail. He returned the next day, and abducted the girl and her 8-year-old friend when they came walking down the trail, according to evidence at trial outlined in a Georgia Supreme Court ruling.

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He drove the two girls to a secluded wooded area, made them undress and raped the older girl, the ruling says. The younger girl tried to run as he took her back to the car, but Presnell caught her, shoved her face underwater in a creek and drowned her.

Presnell then locked the older girl in his car trunk, began driving and dropped her in a wooded area when he got a flat tire. Throughout, Presnell had forced her to engage in sex acts multiple times, the ruling says.

Presnell had told the girl he’d return, but she heard sounds from a nearby gas station and walked there. She described Presnell and his car with a flat tire to police, who found him changing his tire at his apartment complex near where he’d left the older girl.

At first, Presnell denied everything but later he led police to the 8-year-old girl’s body and confessed, the ruling says. Police found a handgun and child pornography showing young girls in his bedroom.

Attorneys for Presnell have said in court filings that Presnell was born to a teenage mother who drank and smoked heavily throughout her pregnancy. Presnell suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome that damaged his brain and kept him “from ever developing into a functioning, responsible adult,” his lawyers argued.

“Coupled with a childhood marked by ongoing violence, alcoholism, and sexual and physical abuse, it is not at all difficult to see how he developed into an adult with serious disturbances which, left unchecked and untreated, could produce tragic results,” his lawyers wrote in a filing arguing that his sentence was unconstitutional.

Presnell would be the first person executed by the state of Georgia since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The last person executed by Georgia was Donnie Cleveland Lance in January 2020. Georgia uses an injection of the sedative pentobarbital to carry out executions.