Condemned Stocking Strangler Carlton Gary's wife Debra was among the defense witnesses to address the state parole board today, urging to to grant Gary a 90-day stay of execution to DNA-test evidence from the 1970s rapes and stranglings of older Columbus women.
Gary's attorney, Jack Martin, is pressing the board to grant Gary the stay and on its own authority order the DNA testing.
"I told them they could set a precedent for doing what's right," said Debra Gary, 47, who married the death-row inmate on Jan. 28, 1996. Accompanying Debra Gary was her 25-year-old daughter Charity, whom Carlton Gary adopted.
Debra Gary was among about 20 people allowed in the hearing, which otherwise is closed to the press and public.
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She said board members were intently focused on the testimony, taking notes and asking questions.
At one point they asked Martin why he didn't seek DNA testing in 2001 when he saw semen samples among the stranglings evidence stored in the Columbus Police Department. She said Martin told the board that "it was his fault" for not pushing for a DNA test then, but he never thought the case would reach the point at which the federal courts rejected Gary's appeals.
She said she speaks to Carlton Gary almost nightly on the telephone, usually for at least 30 minutes. "He's upset that it had to come to this and that we have to go through this," she said.
During the day Gary typically reads, works on his case, and helps other inmates with theirs, she said: "He stays busy."
The Board of Pardons and Paroles started its hearing about 9:20 a.m. The defense presentation ended shortly after noon. The prosecution is now presenting its side.
"The board was very attentive, and we appreciate that," said Martin.
The meeting began with the board one member short, raising the possibility of Gary's being granted a stay of execution if that member can't quickly review a recording of the proceeding and vote today.
Board member Garland Hunt was in the hospital this morning, but was expected soon to see a doctor and to be able to catch up on the hearing in time to cast his vote by telephone, said Scheree Moore, the board's public affairs director.
The board has four members plus the chair, Gale Buckner. The members are Robert Keller, Milton "Buddy" Nix Jr., James Donald and Hunt.
Martin's witnesses were:
-- Dr. Thomas David, a dentist testifying that a bite-mark mold made from a wound on victim Janet Cofer's left breast does not match Gary's lower teeth.
-- Roger Morrison, an authority on blood work, says semen tests used to link Gary to the crimes was flawed, and in fact should have excluded Gary as perpetrator.
-- Jim Covington, a former GBI agent, who says a shoeprint found on an air-conditioner outside Ruth Schwob's home is too small to match Gary's shoe size, and that while he was on a stranglings task force in the 1970s, he was told no useful fingerprints were found at the crime scenes. Investigators say they matched Gary's fingerprints to those found at four of the stranglings.
Schwob was attacked in her home by an intruder believed to be the Stocking Strangler, but survived by punching an alarm button that prompted neighbors to call police.
Arrested in 1984, Gary was convicted in three of the seven stranglings that terrorized Columbus in 1977 and ’78. The victims were: Florence Scheible, 89, on Oct. 21, 1977; Martha Thurmond, 69, on Oct. 25, 1977; and Kathleen Woodruff, 74, on Dec. 28, 1977.
He was implicated in other slayings to show a pattern of behavior, as the same killer is believed to have committed all seven stranglings, and to have attacked Schwob and another woman who survived. Investigators also have linked Gary to similar crimes in New York.
Martin argues that the Columbus Police Department holds evidence that may be suitable for DNA testing from the three cases in which Gary was convicted, and from the April 20, 1978, rape and strangulation of Cofer, 61.
Martin in the parole board application wrote that only with DNA testing can the board “make an accurate assessment as to whether Mr. Gary is in fact guilty of the crimes for which he was sentenced to death, or at least whether there is sufficient doubt to make a case for clemency.”
The parole board has the authority to change Gary’s sentence from death to life in prison. Gary’s execution is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.
To back his argument that the board can order the DNA tests, Martin cites two lines in a state law: “The board, in considering any case within its power, shall cause to be brought before it all pertinent information on the person in question,” and, “The board may make such other investigation as it may deem necessary in order to be fully informed about the person.”
Gary's parole board hearing is among several last-minute appeals currently moving through the legal system. On Friday, his attorney filed a petition in Butts County Superior Court, challenging the conviction by pointing out crime-scene evidence that did not match Gary. The Butts County court has jurisdiction over Jackon’s death-row prison.
After Muscogee Superior Court Judge Robert Johnston last week twice rejected Martin’s motions for an execution stay to conduct DNA tests, Martin appealed Johnston’s decision to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Also last week, Martin filed in U.S. District Court a request for funds to hire expert witnesses to testify before the parole board about a bite mark mold made from a wound found on victim Janet Cofer, and about semen testing the prosecution used in Gary’s 1986 trial, which Martin maintains was flawed.
When District Court Judge Clay Land denied Martin’s request on Friday, Martin filed notice of his intent to appeal Land’s decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.