The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles declined to stay condemned ‘Stocking Strangler’ Carlton Gary’s execution or commute his death sentence Wednesday, the day before he’s to die by lethal injection.
The board heard a full day of testimony as Gary sought to escape his execution set for 7 p.m. Thursday.
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The board heard from the defense for about three hours Wednesday morning. The prosecution addressed the board Wednesday afternoon, starting at 1:30 p.m. and finishing around 5 p.m. Among those present then were District Attorney Julia Slater, Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren, and former Columbus Mayor and Police Chief Jim Wetherington.
Boren was among the first investigators to interview Gary after his arrest May 3, 1984.
The press and the general public are not allowed in parole board hearings. Reporters waited outside in the mezzanine of the James “Sloppy” Floyd building, a twin set of office towers across from the Georgia capitol.
Gary’s lead attorney sounded hopeful as he emerged from the defense session Wednesday morning, saying the five board members listened carefully and seemed to grasp the complexities of the case.
Atlanta attorney John “Jack” Martin had brought to the board a juror from Gary’s 1986 trial, Jack Pickel, who told the board he would not have voted to give Gary the death penalty had he seen the evidence available today, particularly a DNA test from the Sept. 11, 1977 assault on Gertrude Miller.
Prosecutors have maintained this brutal beating and rape that Miller survived was a precursor to the seven serial killings that followed, and they had Miller identify Gary as her assailant during his trial. Knotted stockings were found at the crime scene, a telltale sign of the strangler that prowled Columbus’ Wynnton area in 1977 and ’78.
But a 2011 DNA test on clothing police collected at the Miller scene yielded a profile that did not match Gary.
A key point in Martin’s effort to get Gary either a new trial or new sentence is the argument that had even one juror heard new evidence casting doubt on Gary’s guilt, Gary would not be facing the death penalty today, as the jury’s vote had to be unanimous.
Also addressing the board with Martin and Pickel were August “Bud” Siemon, Gary’s trial attorney, and Jeffrey Ertel, who handled Gary’s early appeals. Martin said they outlined the disadvantages they faced trying to defend Gary with little funding, and without the exculpatory evidence they say the prosecution hid from them.
The board by majority vote (three of the five) has the power to commute Gary’s sentence to life in prison, or stay his execution for 90 days. It last heard from Gary’s attorneys in 2009, when Gary was to be executed Dec. 16. It denied Gary clemency. The Georgia Supreme Court later stayed that execution and sent the case back to Muscogee Superior Court to consider DNA-testing any stranglings evidence deemed suitable.
That testing yield mixed results, as authorities said it matched Gary to the Sept. 24, 1977, rape and strangling of Jean Dimenstein, 71, but not to Miller’s rape.
The defense had hoped a more conclusive test would come from semen found on the body of Martha Thurmond, found raped and strangled Oct. 25, 1977. But the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said it tainted and destroyed that evidence, leaving defense attorneys outraged.
After she left the prosecution session Wednesday afternoon, Slater said, “The district attorney’s office remains confident in the verdict and sentence of Carlton Gary, and we’re certainly hoping the Department of Corrections will allow us to carry out the sentence given 33 years ago by the jury.”
She declined to say who on the prosecution’s side addressed the board, but acknowledged representatives from some of the victims’ families were present.
Asked about the DNA evidence, she said: “We certainly are glad for the DNA evidence. We are pleased that the DNA has proven that Carlton Gary is indeed the Stocking Strangler beyond any question. The Dimenstein match certainly proves that.”
She said the prosecution also has confidence in Miller’s identification of Gary during his 1986 trial. She declined to answer more specific inquiries about the apparent conflict in the DNA testing.
Among those speaking out online about the impending execution is David Rose, the British author of “The Big Eddy Club,” a book that delves into the alleged injustices Gary suffered with an underfunded defense hampered by withheld evidence.
Contacted via email this week, Rose sent the Ledger-Enquirer this statement:
“If Carlton is executed, it would represent a barbaric perversion of the course of justice. There is a mountain of physical evidence that shows he did not commit these crimes. First and foremost, DNA testing demonstrates that he did not rape Gertrude Miller, who no one disputes was the strangler’s first victim. DNA testing of the semen swabbed from the body of Martha Thurmond should have demonstrated his innocence once and for all, yet this precious material was rendered useless at the GBI crime lab when an unknown person smeared fresh semen on the sample and the lab equipment. This was either deliberate sabotage, or negligence so flagrant that it beggars belief. Serology testing had already shown Carlton was not the source of the Thurmond sample. The DNA test would have confirmed this beyond doubt.
“The US Supreme Court and the 11th Circuit Appeals Court have been asked to stay his execution and review the case on these grounds. If they fail to do so, this should shock the conscience of all Americans. Executing Carlton Gary in these circumstances would amount to an act of judicial murder.”
Rose also has written a piece for The Daily Beast regarding Gary’s execution.
On Wednesday morning, Martin said he had not yet heard any news from the higher courts regarding Gary’s final appeals.
Gary was convicted in three of the seven Columbus ritual serial killings, which were dubbed the “Stocking Stranglings” because the killer always used a ligature – typically knotting the victim’s stockings to tighten his grip. He beat and raped each woman as she died, then left her body covered.
Gary was convicted in these three murders:
- The Oct. 21, 1977, rape and strangling of Florence Scheible, 89, in her 1941 Dimon St. home. Gary’s right thumbprint was found on a door frame leading into Scheible’s bedroom, investigators said.
- The Oct. 25, 1977, rape and strangling of Martha Thurmond, 70, in her 2614 Marion St. home. Police said Gary’s fingerprint was found on the frame of a rear bedroom window.
- The Dec. 28, 1977, rape and strangling of Kathleen Woodruff, 74, in her 1811 Buena Vista Road home, which since has been demolished. Gary’s fingerprints were found on a rear window, authorities said.
Convicted and sentenced to death in August 1986, Gary’s appeals went on for 30 years through state and federal courts, as his defense attorneys found exculpatory evidence not presented at his trial.
After a series of hearings on that evidence, Superior Court Judge Frank Jordan Jr. ruled Sept. 1 that it was not sufficiently “material” to have altered the outcome of Gary’s trial, and higher courts upheld his decision.