Georgia Supreme Court upholds death penalty for man convicted in death of Columbus gas station owner

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 4, 2013 

The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday unanimously upheld the death sentence of Ward Anthony Brockman, convicted in the 1990 slaying of a Columbus gas station manager.

In March 1994 a Superior Court jury convicted Brockman of felony murder and attempt to commit armed robbery in connection with the June 27, 1990 shooting death of Billy Lynn, 22 at the time of his death.

“We find that the evidence, construed most favorably to the jury’s verdicts, was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find Brockman guilty of the crimes charged beyond a reasonable doubt,” Justice Harold Melton wrote in the 67-page opinion. “Reviewing similar cases, considering both the crime and the defendant, we find that Brockman’s death sentence is not disproportionate under Georgia law.”

Brockman filed a motion for a new trial which was denied in February 2012. Brockman then appealed to the state Supreme Court, leading to Monday's decision.

In a 244-page brief, Brockman's attorneys argued that the trial court and state prosecutors committed more than 30 errors, according to a news release from the high court. Among them, they argued Brockman should not have been sentenced to death as the state failed to prove the existence of at least one aggravating circumstance because Brockman was only convicted of criminal attempt to commit armed robbery, not armed robbery.

“The crux of Brockman’s argument is that the death penalty is not appropriate punishment in his case because he did not complete the armed robbery,” the opinion says. “However, it is not uncommon for an armed robber’s priorities to shift from completing the robbery to escaping from the scene once he has murdered the victim. The jury was authorized to conclude from the evidence presented at trial that Brockman acted accordingly.”

At the time of the crime, Lynn was the afternoon manager of the Premium Oil gas station on Forrest Road, according to facts presented to the Supreme Court. The owner of the service station was in his office preparing sales reports when he heard a gunshot, followed by squealing tires. He went outside and found Lynn on his back by the gas pumps with a single fatal gunshot wound to the abdomen. Lynn had $70 in his front pocket. Witnesses told police they had seen a black Camaro Iroc in the vicinity with four men in it. One witness subsequently identified Brockman, 18 at the time, as the driver.

A description of the vehicle was broadcast over the police radio, and soon after, an officer spotted the car. A high-speed chase ensued, crossing into Alabama where Brockman and the three other men abandoned the car in Phenix City. The four eventually returned to Brockman’s apartment where Brockman hid in the attic. He told his girlfriend to tell police no one was there and the others to keep quiet, while he buried himself in the attic insulation. Police found one of the men, Quentin Lewis, hiding in a downstairs closet.

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