Attorneys for convicted “Stocking Strangler” Carlton Gary argued their case for a new trial, based on what they claim is new evidence, back in January before Muscogee Superior Court Judge Frank Jordan Jr.
As of Friday, there had still been no ruling.
Not that local and state legal officials — some of whom were literally children when all this began — haven’t been pushing for one. As reported by the Ledger-Enquirer’s Tim Chitwood, District Attorney Julia Slater and a group of prosecutors, including one present and one former assistant state attorney general, filed a motion June 27 calling on Jordan to make a decision.
So urgent was the prosecutors’ insistence on moving this decades-long case forward that their motion cites Georgia law setting a 90-day deadline for the court to issue such a ruling “unless providentially hindered or unless counsel for the plaintiff and the defendant agree in writing to extend the time.” It has now been more than six months, in case you weren’t counting. (Under the same state law, failure to comply “shall be grounds for impeachment and the penalty therefore shall be [the judge’s] removal from office.”)
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Whatever the judge’s decision, Slater said, it won’t be the end of the matter anyway: “I anticipate that whatever the ruling is, one side will appeal.”
The sad and ugly reality is that whether we’re talking about 90 days or six months, it’s a relative eye blink in time — though just the latest in what seems an infinite series of them — in the long nightmare of a serial killer’s violent, terrifying crime spree and its seemingly endless aftermath.
It has been 40 years since the first of the rapes and stranglings of seven older Columbus women. Their families’ wait for justice is well into its third generation now; it has been so long since these murders shook Columbus and the whole Chattahoochee Valley area that some of the victims’ loved ones have lived out their lives, waiting futilely for justice, and passed on.
It has been more than 30 years since Carlton Gary, convicted in three of the murders — the ones for which, in the pre-DNA forensic technology of 1986, prosecutors had the strongest cases — was convicted and sentenced to death. (Years later, DNA evidence from one of the murders for which he was not tried matched Gary’s; DNA evidence from one of the murders for which he was convicted had been contaminated during comparison tests at the GBI crime lab.)
And it has been more than seven years since that death sentence was last scheduled to be carried out. At 66, Gary is now older than three of the victims when their lives ended in violence, pain and terror.
Both the guilty verdict and the capital sentence imposed on Carlton Gary have been upheld by every court to which the case has been appealed, including the U.S. Supreme Court — twice. No judge in any appeals panel to which the case was presented has offered a dissent. Life without the possibility of parole was not a lawful sentence at the time of Gary’s conviction, so commuting his death sentence to life now could present legal complications — including possible (if unlikely) parole, given the time Gary has already served.
A 1980 Georgia Supreme Court ruling requires that a new trial must be based on genuinely new evidence (not just evidence the defense failed or neglected to produce earlier), and that such evidence be so compelling that it would likely have affected the verdict.
In any case, as Slater pointed out, whatever the eventual ruling from the Superior Court, it likely just sets another appeals process in motion. To drag this case out any longer than absolutely necessary, given the heinousness of the crimes and the absurd span of time over which it has been dragged out already, would be unconscionable.