ATLANTA (AP) – A judge on Monday temporarily delayed the execution of a Georgia man who was due to die Tuesday for the murder of an 8-year-old girl 46 years ago.
Virgil Delano Presnel Jr., 68, killed a girl and raped her 10-year-old friend on her way home from school in Cobb County, outside Atlanta, on May 4, 1976. His death was determined by injection. The sedative pentobarbital at the state prison in Jackson at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Delivering the verdict from the bench at the end of a hearing that lasted more than eight hours on Monday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shermela Williams issued an order temporarily barring the state from moving forward with Tuesday’s execution. She was delivering the verdict in a lawsuit filed by Presnell’s lawyers alleging that by setting an execution date the state violated an agreement that effectively halted executions during the coronavirus pandemic and established Under the conditions they may resume.
State lawyers indicated they would appeal the judge’s decision so that execution could proceed as planned.
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Earlier on Monday, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, the only authority in Georgia that can commute the death penalty, refused to stop Presnell’s execution.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Federal Defender Program, which represents Presnell, alleged that the agreement stated that, with one named exception, execution would not resume until six months after three conditions were met: The end of the state’s COVID-19 judicial emergency, the resumption of normal visitation in state prisons and the availability of a COVID vaccine “for all members of the public.”
The judicial emergency ended in June, but prisons are still using a modified visitation policy and children under the age of 5 still cannot access the vaccine, said Mike Caplan, attorney representing the federal Defender Program. argued in court.
State counsel Jonathan Loegel argued that the settlement was not a binding contract and also said that the state “considerably complied” with its terms. He added that visitation has “resumed in our new normal” and that the vaccine has been widely available for a year.
The agreement stated that once the conditions were met, the state intended to seek an execution date for Billy Rowlerson, who was sentenced to death in May 1993 for the murders of three people in South Georgia, And Rowlerson’s lawyers will be given at least three months’ time. notice after the conditions are met, the suit says. The attorney general’s office said it would not seek the execution of anyone else involved in the settlement until at least six months after the terms were met, the lawsuit says.
In late April, the attorney general’s office informed Rowlerson’s attorney that the state intended to set Rowlerson’s execution for May 17, the lawsuit says. After Rowlerson’s attorney reminded a state attorney that she had agreed not to schedule execution during her previously scheduled leave, the state attorney told her that Rowlerson’s execution would not be scheduled until August at the earliest. .
A few days later, on April 25, the state attorney informed Presnell’s attorney, Monet Breverton-Palmer, that the state intended to seek an execution warrant for him, the lawsuit says. The warrant was issued on April 27.
Contrary to the settlement, the attorney general gave Braverton-Palmer just two days’ notice that they intended to set his execution date, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit says he had insufficient time left to prepare for his clemency hearing on Monday.
The clemency hearing lasted only an hour on Monday morning and Braverton-Palmer did not call on any witnesses or experts to testify or present dozens of witnesses she would have otherwise provided, Caplan said.
“It is often the best hope that a prisoner sentenced to death is not hanged,” Caplan said. “Her case for clemency this morning completely burned down.”
In a clemency application submitted to the parole board, Braverton-Palmer argued that he was “severely brain damaged” and did not understand the harm he was causing to the two girls. But due to the COVID restrictions on travel and travel and an expert witness, who recently suffered a heart problem, she was not able to testify to support it.
Braverton-Palmer was working on Presnell’s case, but because of the agreement it was “not on his radar as an emergency”, argued Caplan. He urged the judge to delay the execution to allow Braverton-Palmer to complete his investigation and properly prepare for a new clemency hearing.
Caplan said it is in the public’s interest to ensure that the promises made by the state are fulfilled and to avoid any presumption that Presnell will be executed prematurely when his lawyer is to present a case of clemency. were not ready.
Loegl argued that it is in the interest of the state to ensure prompt and timely administration of justice and delay execution. Braverton-Palmer has known since last fall that Presnell had ended his appeal and therefore had sufficient time to prepare, he argued.
Williams said it was clear to her that the emailed agreement was binding on the parties. He said the Federal Defender Program was prevented from being prepared for COVID-related reasons and was dependent on the agreement.
It is clear that Presnell, whom she allowed to intervene in the trial, would have suffered irreparable harm if the execution was not delayed, the judge said: “We cannot return from death.”
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