Pointing to fresh doubts sown by forensic testing in the notorious Stocking Strangler slayings, defense attorneys for convicted murderer Carlton M. Gary today filed a court motion seeking a new trial 26 years after the Columbus man was condemned to death.
The 34-page motion, filed this afternoon in Muscogee County Superior Court, summarizes recent discoveries that Gary's defense team claims have turned the case on its head, including DNA tests that exclude Gary as the rapist of strangling victim Martha Thurmond, one of three women he was convicted of killing. Most recently, defense attorneys said a partial DNA profile excluded Gary from the rape of Gertrude Miller, who has since died but survived her attack and testified against Gary during his 1986 trial.
While Gary was convicted in the rapes and murders of three local women, he wasn't charged in Miller's rape. But prosecutors relied on her at trial to identify Gary, seeking to illustrate his pattern of breaking into homes and raping older women.
"Ms. Miller was the only person to identify the Defendant as the perpetrator of the attacks attributed to the Columbus Stocking Strangler," defense attorney Jack Martin wrote in today's motion. "Indeed, her testimony identifying the Defendant as her attacker was probably the most dramatic event during the trial."
"This newly discovered evidence, not available at the time of the Defendant's trial, especially when combined with the other undisclosed evidence bringing into question Ms. Miller's identification, thoroughly undermines the identification of Ms. Miller, one of the key pillars of the State's case against Mr. Gary," the motion adds.
Millers case stood out not only for her eyewitness account, but also because she insisted a single intruder attacked her, offering no evidence a second assailant was there to leave the semen that doesnt match Gary. Prosecutors did not seek convictions in all of the stranglings, or in the Miller rape, but they have adamantly maintained that Gary acted alone.
Attorneys on both sides have offered competing interpretations of the scientific testing. Prosecutors, for their part, have noted that DNA testing linked Gary to the rape and strangling of 71-year-old Jean Dimenstein and a similar case in New York, but Gary wasn't tried for those deaths.
"If the State believes it has a case for the Dimenstein murder, then it should try Mr. Gary for that case," Martin added. "But it cannot use one possible similar transaction to support guilt of the crimes for which Mr. Gary was convicted and sentenced to death in the face of evidence clearly undermining its theory that there was one and only one Columbus Stocking Strangler, and that person was Mr. Gary."
District Attorney Julia Slater declined to comment on the motion, saying the state will be filing a response.
The motion for new trial also points to questions about fingerprints found in the case and potentially exculpatory evidence that wasn't turned over to Gary at the time of his trial.
Gary was arrested in 1984 and convicted two years later of three of the seven brutal rapes and stranglings that terrorized Columbus in 1977 and 1978. He was spared execution in 2009 by a last minute stay by the Georgia Supreme Court, which ordered a Muscogee Superior Court judge to consider DNA testing.