Convicted Stocking Strangler Carlton Gary’s attorneys have sought a stay of execution so evidence from four of the seven brutal rapes and murders of elderly Columbus women in the late 1970s can be DNA tested.
The motion filed today in Muscogee Superior Court makes a dramatic claim: That despite prosecutors’ saying such evidence years ago was destroyed, some yet exists, and was found Dec. 4 in the Columbus Police Department when attorneys accompanied by Aimee Maxwell of the Georgia Innocence Project used an open-records request to demand that any such material be disclosed.
No evidence in the stranglings has been subjected to DNA testing, which was not available when Gary was convicted in 1986. During his subsequent appeals, his defense team repeatedly sought any “serological” evidence so that it could be tested to determine whether or not it matched Gary’s DNA.
“This is the classic circumstance where DNA testing conclusively can identify the perpetrator,” reads the motion filed by Atlanta attorney Jack Martin, Gary’s lead counsel.
Martin lists this evidence as being suitable for testing:
— In the Oct. 21, 1977, murder of Florence Scheible, 89, “a glass slide from a sample of a sheet from underneath the victim where chemical testing … suggested the presence of semen,” and a hair found between Scheible’s legs.
— In the Oct. 25, 1977, murder of Martha Thurmond, 69, two glass slides labeled “sperm slides,” the numbers on which indicate they include samples of semen recovered from Thurmond’s abdomen and bedding. A GBI crime lab report states spermatozoa “were observed in the semen sample” from her abdomen.
— In the Dec. 28, 1977, murder of Kathleen Woodruff, 74, a glass slide labeled “sperm slide,” which may be “from a white sheet on which chemical examination … suggested the presence of semen.”
— In the April 20, 1978, murder of Janet Cofer, 61, scrapings from underneath her fingernails.
Martin adds in his motion that “numerous other items” exist that may be tested for DNA, including stained clothing and bedding, hairs found on the victims and fingernail scrapings. He further states that in the Feb. 12, 1978, murder of Mildred Borom, 78, there may be glass slides from a sheet and a wash cloth on which crime lab technicians found spermatozoa, and that a sample from “a vaginal swab” in the Sept. 25, 1977, murder of Jean Dimenstein, 71, also may exist.
Gary was convicted of three murders, Scheible, Thurmond and Woodruff. He was implicated in other cases to show a pattern of behavior, as the same killer is believed to have committed all seven.
Besides Cofer, Borom and Dimenstein, the other victim was Fern Jackson, 60, killed on Sept. 15, 1977.
After the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Gary’s third appeal last week, the Department of Corrections scheduled his execution for 7 p.m. Dec. 16, at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. He has a state Board of Pardons and Paroles hearing set for 9 a.m. Monday in Atlanta.
Martin’s motion is based on a state law allowing a defendant convicted of a “serious violent felony” to seek DNA testing if it’s possible he would have been acquitted had such testing been available when he was tried.
That law stipulates such a motion “shall not automatically stay a execution.” Martin seeks the stay so tests can be conducted, noting “there is more than a reasonable possibility that the DNA testing will answer the question of whether or not Carlton Gary is in fact the Columbus Stocking Strangler.”
Groups such as the Georgia Innocence Project have used DNA testing to exonerate inmates convicted of crimes they did not commit.
The Georgia Attorney General’s staff has represented the prosecution in Gary’s federal appeals. Because Martin’s motion was filed in Muscogee Superior Court, it will be up to Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Julia Slater to respond.
“We will oppose the motion, and we are researching and preparing a response,” Slater said Monday evening. Her response likely will be filed Tuesday, she said.
Asked whether a hearing on Martin’s motions would be convened, Slater said: “That’s one of the issues that will be discussed in the briefs, is whether or not a hearing is even necessary.”
Martin asks that a judge hold a hearing on his motions and allow Gary’s defense “to conduct DNA testing of all biological samples now in existence which are suitable for DNA testing, which testing could support an extraordinary motion for a new trial.”
Gary today is 59. Arrested in 1984, he was in his late 20s at the time of the stranglings. The killer in the late ‘70s was given the name “Stocking Strangler” because of the ligature he often used on his victims.