A Columbus man who in a drug-fueled rampage in 1995 raped and fatally stabbed his stepdaughter before smashing his wife’s skull with a baseball bat again is facing death by lethal injection.
Chief Superior Court Judge Bemon McBride reinstated the death sentence for Johnnie Alfred Worsley on Monday, three years after Judge John Allen vacated the sentence and ordered a new penalty phase for Worsley’s trial.
Allen first said he would vacate the sentence on March 14, 2012, and issued the order in writing the following Aug. 28. Prosecutors appealed a few days later, on Sept. 4.
The Georgia Supreme Court overturned Allen’s ruling on July 1, 2013, sending the case back to Muscogee Superior Court. On March 19 of this year the district attorney moved to reinstate Worsley’s death penalty, prompting his hearing Monday.
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Worsley now is represented by the Georgia Capital Defenders Office, which said it again will appeal Worsley’s conviction and sentence.
Worsley’s crime was particularly brutal, and he did not deny the two murders.
According to the state Supreme Court’s review of the case. Worsley married wife Flora Worsley in 1984, but they separated four years later because of his cocaine addiction. They started talking again in 1993, and in January 1995 he moved back in with her and her daughter, Yameika Bell.
But his addiction persisted, and he became increasingly hostile. In late February 1995, his wife said she’d leave him if he kept using coke, and he said he’d kill her if she tried.
The following March 6, Bell noticed money missing from her purse and blamed Johnnie Worsley, who denied taking it, but gave her some back. About 2 a.m. the next day, he got a butcher knife from the kitchen, went into Bell’s bedroom, raped and stabbed her. She was 17.
Investigators said they found her naked under a pile of comforters on the bed, her feet on the floor, her legs spread and her underwear at her feet. She had nine stab wounds and 11 slashes to her neck, and nine stab wounds to her chest and upper abdomen. Foam around Bell’s mouth showed she was still breathing when Worsley stabbed her, authorities said.
Worsley left the house to buy crack cocaine, then came back and smoked it. At 8 a.m., his wife came home after working a late shift, and he crushed her skull with a “full-force swing” of a baseball bat and stabbed her in the neck. Authorities later found her on the bedroom floor, also lying under a comforter.
Relatives became worried when Flora Worsley didn’t call her mother that morning like she usually did. Instead Johnnie Worsley called her and asked her forgiveness “for what I have done.” Police summoned to the Worsley residence saw nothing suspicious, but did not go inside.
The next day, a friend entered and found the bodies amid rooms splattered with blood. That same day, Johnnie Worsley drove his Oldsmobile Cutlass to a Phenix City car dealership and took a blue Geo Metro for a test drive. He did not return, and left a note in the Cutlass in part saying, “I now must go to hell and pay for what I am.”
He drove the Geo to a church in Twiggs County, where he met a deacon and asked forgiveness for killing two people. The deacon called the sheriff, who later saw the Geo on Interstate 16 and tried to stop it. For four miles the suspect led a chase at up to 95 mph before he finally gave up.
His trial began Nov. 12, 1998, and ended the following Nov. 14, when the jury found him guilty and recommended the death penalty. Johnnie Worsley had pleaded guilty but mentally ill.
During his trial, defense attorneys called to the stand a psychologist who said the defendant suffered from a sustained depression, came from an abusive and dysfunctional home, had an IQ of 78, read at a fourth-grade level and had a seventh-grade grasp of math. The psychologist also said Johnnie Worsley likely suffered from brain damage.
Allen in his review of the case found the defense failed to properly convey such mitigating circumstances to the jury as it pondered the death penalty, and neglected to object when the victims’ family said he deserved the death penalty, which is considered improper in victim-impact statements.
The state Supreme Court said the family’s remarks during the sentencing hearing made minimal references to the death penalty, and the crime was so obviously heinous that their comments hardly mattered. The defense sufficiently reminded jurors of the psychologist’s testimony regarding the defendant’s diminished mental capacity, the court ruled.
Allen also had said the defense failed to call Johnnie Worsley’s family to testify to his hardships, but the Supreme Court decided that was a reasonable tactic, as his relatives could have contradicted what the psychologist said, damaging the defense.