Less than an hour before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection, condemned Columbus “Stocking Strangler” Carlton Gary lost three court appeals seeking a stay of execution Thursday.
In rapid succession, Gary’s appeals were rejected by the Georgia Supreme Court, the federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land.
He still has a request for stay in front of the U.S. Supreme and the case was assigned to Clarence Thomas, a justice from Georgia. Death penalty appeals are usually decided by the entire court, though they may be assigned to one judge.
The eleventh hour request was filed with the Supreme Court Thursday. The court will either deny the request for stay or issue a motion that could halt the execution.
Gary, 67, was scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m. at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.
About 6:20 p.m., the media witnesses were taken to the death chamber in a prison van.
Gary in 1986 was convicted in three of the seven Columbus ritual serial killings that were dubbed the “Stocking Stranglings” because the killer usually strangled women with their stockings, knotting the hosiery to tighten his grip. He beat and raped each woman as she died, then left her body covered.
Gary contends that his innocence has been proven by the recent DNA testing results and other evidence, including a footprint at one of the crime scenes and a bite mark on one of the victims, according to the news release from the state Supreme Court.
He has asked the Georgia Supreme Court to stay his execution while the U.S. Supreme Court considers his claims But with today’s order, the Georgia Supreme Court has dismissed Gary’s motion for a stay of execution. The high court has determined that procedurally, Gary should have brought an application for a discretionary appeal to the Court. Instead, he brought what is deemed an “original motion” – one that originates in this Court rather than coming to this Court as an appeal of a decision by a lower court.
“We conclude that Gary has failed to show why this Court must exercise its original jurisdiction in his case, something that this Court will do only in ‘extremely rare’ cases, which this case is not because the relevant recent decision in the trial court could be raised before this Court through an application for discretionary appeal,” today’s order says.
About a dozen protesters have gathered outside of the prison. They are part of a group called Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
Mary Catherine Johnson of Atlanta said the group gathers for every execution.
“We would be here no matter who it is,” she said. “We are opposed to all executions.”
The execution was scheduled to start at 7 p.m., but the prison spokespeople have not given an official word on the status.
He 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.
- 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.
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.
Failing to win him a new trial last year after a series of hearings before Superior Court Judge Frank Jordan Jr., the defense in the end argued Gary should not be executed because the evidence casting doubt on his guilt meant Georgia could be killing an innocent man.
Jordan ruled such evidence was not sufficiently “material” to have altered the outcome. The Georgia Supreme Court upheld his decision.
Lingering doubts about Gary’s guilt have spawned conspiracy theories naming other suspects in the stranglings, but those suspicions were not cited in his appeals.
Gary last was scheduled to be executed Dec. 16, 2009, but the Georgia Supreme Court issued a stay, and sent the case back to Muscogee Superior Court for DNA testing.
The mixed results in 2010 and 2011 spawned more suspicion: Gary was matched to one case, but not another, and he was convicted of neither.
Both were cases the prosecution used to show the serial killer’s pattern. Then-District Attorney Bill Smith in 1986 picked the best evidence to seek convictions in three murders, but used all seven stranglings and other cases in which Gary was implicated to show the Stocking Strangler’s pattern.
One was the Sept. 11, 1977, attack on Gertrude Miller, 64, who was beaten with a board and raped in her 2703 Hood St. home. Her assailant left behind knotted stockings he took from her dresser.
Prosecutors claimed this was a precursor to the seven stranglings. Miller lived long enough to identify Gary during his 1986 trial, but she since has died.
A 2011 DNA test on semen found on the bloody nightclothes police collected that night yielded a profile that did not match Gary.
But a DNA test matched him to the second Stocking Strangling: the Sept. 24, 1977, murder of Jean Dimenstein, 71, found raped and strangled with a stocking in her home at 3027 21st St., where her body was left covered with sheets and a pillow.
Gary’s defense team has maintained that because the prosecution in 1986 used all the rapes and murders in which Gary was accused to prove a lone killer committed each, then any evidence from any one that doesn’t fit Gary casts doubt on his guilt.
Gary’s attorneys said the most promising semen sample from the seven Columbus rapes was found on Martha Thurmond, one of the three cases in which Gary was convicted.
The lawyers were shocked when state authorities announced the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab had tainted and destroyed the Thurmond evidence with a “control sample,” a known DNA profile used to test equipment.
In Gary’s appeals, they argued this not only was recklessly negligent, but also cast doubt on the GBI lab’s claimed Dimenstein match.
So, having stayed Gary’s 2009 execution for DNA testing, the Georgia Supreme Court nine years later was left with no more conclusive evidence than it had before. This year it rejected Gary’s appeal.
In the evidence against Gary in 1986, prosecutors cited this litany of other assaults and murders in which he was implicated, two from when Gary lived in New York in the 1970s, before he escaped from prison there and returned to Columbus:
- The April 14, 1970, murder of Nellie Farmer, 85, raped, strangled and left covered in her home in the Wellington Hotel, Albany, N.Y. Gary’s fingerprint was found at the scene. Gary claimed another man killed Farmer.
- The Jan. 2, 1977, assault on Jean Frost, 55, raped and nearly choked to death in her home in Syracuse, N.Y. Gary had a watch taken from Frost’s home when police arrested him two days later. Again he blamed another man.
- The Sept. 16, 1977, murder of Mary Willis “Fern” Jackson, 59, of 2505 17th St., found beaten, raped and strangled with a stocking and sash, her body left covered. This is considered the first of the seven “Stocking Stranglings.”
- The Feb. 11, 1978, attack on Ruth Schwob, 74, of 1800 Carter Ave., who nearly was strangled to death by an intruder she fought off, pressing a panic alarm by her bed. Police found her sitting on the edge of her bed, gasping, a stocking wrapped around her neck.
- The Feb. 12, 1978, murder of Mildred Borom, 78, 1612 Forest Ave., about two blocks from Schwob’s home. She was found raped and strangled with a cord cut from her window blinds. Her body was covered with a garment. This is considered the sixth “Stocking Strangling.”
- The April 20, 1978, murder of Janet Cofer, 61, of 3783 Steam Mill Road, found raped and strangled with a stocking, a pillow over her face. This is the seventh and last “Stocking Strangling.”
In 2007, New York authorities announced a DNA test on cold-case evidence matched Gary to another 1970s homicide there: the June 27, 1975, rape and strangling of Marion Fisher, 40, whose body was found on a road just outside Syracuse, her face covered. Her homicide is not in evidence in Gary’s appeals.
Syracuse is in Onondaga County, where authorities elected not to pursue charges against Gary, as he already was sentenced to death in Georgia, and he would be a “flight risk” were he transported to another state for trial.
Gary has escaped from Onondaga County before, on Aug. 23, 1977, when he jumped from a third-floor prison window. That’s when he came home to Columbus, moving to 1027 Fisk Ave., about two blocks from Gertrude Miller’s home.
If Gary did all authorities say, he had a remarkable criminal career, not only as a burglar and ritual serial killer, but an armed robber who targeted restaurants.
Investigators say that when the Columbus stranglings stopped, Gary in 1978 embarked on a spree of armed robberies that began at fast-food restaurants here and then continued when he moved to South Carolina, where he earned the nickname “Steakhouse Bandit.”
He was arrested Feb. 16, 1979, the day after he robbed a Po’ Folks restaurant in Gafney, S.C. He was convicted of armed robbery Feb. 22, 1979, in Greenville County, S.C., and convicted on that same charge March 29, 1979, in Cherokee County, S.C.
On March 15, 1984, he escaped from prison in Columbia, S.C., and returned to Columbus. Authorities here believe he then committed another set of armed robberies, one in Phenix City, where he is alleged to have raped a restaurant worker; another in Montgomery, Ala.; and two more in Gainesville, Fla., where Gary lived when he was a teenager.
On April 30, 1984, Columbus detectives looking for a gun stolen during the stranglings traced the weapon to Gary and got copies of his fingerprints, which they matched to the Woodruff strangling.
They arrested Gary in Albany, Ga., on May 3, 1984, and brought him back to Columbus for trial.
During his trial, prosecutors cited spans of time when Gary otherwise was occupied – whether working nights at a local foundry, confined to prison, living elsewhere or robbing restaurants – to show no killings in the evidence against him happened then: When he was otherwise engaged, he was linked to no case in which an older woman was raped and strangled nearby, and her body left covered.
His having been tied to so many assaults and murders with the same pattern is too remarkable a correlation to be a credible coincidence, authorities said.
CARLTON GARY TIMELINE
This timeline was compiled from Columbus police, court records and Ledger-Enquirer archives:
Sept. 24, 1950, Carlton Michael Gary is born in Columbus, Ga., where he lives until age 16, when he moves with his mother to Fort Myers, Fla., and later Gainesville, Fla.
Sept. 3, 1964, Gary attends Carver High School.
Nov. 18, 1965, Gary attends Spencer High School.
Jan. 31, 1966, Gary returns to Carver High School and later transfers to Dunbar High School in Fort Myers, Fla.
Oct. 31, 1967, Gary’s charged with breaking into an automobile in Gainesville, Fla.
March 17, 1968, Gary’s charged with arson in Gainesville, Fla.
Nov. 26, 1969, Gary’s charged with assaulting a police officer in Bridgeport, Conn.
April 14, 1970, Nellie Farmer, 85, is raped and strangled and her body left covered in her home in the Wellington Hotel, Albany, N.Y. Gary’s fingerprint is found at the scene. Gary claims another man killed Farmer, and is convicted only of robbery.
July 15, 1970, Gary’s sentenced to 10 years in prison for robbery.
March 31, 1975, Gary is released from prison and moves to Syracuse, NY.
June 27, 1975, the body of Marion Fisher, 40, is found on a road just outside Syracuse. She was raped and strangled. Authorities in 2007 say they match Gary’s DNA to the cold-case evidence.
July 25, 1975, Gary’s charged with escape, resisting arrest and violating parole.
July 17, 1976, Gary’s released on parole.
Sept. 3, 1976, Gary’s charged with assault.
Jan. 2, 1977, Jean Frost, 55, is raped and nearly choked to death in her home in Syracuse, N.Y. Gary has a watch taken from Frost’s home when police arrest him two days later. Again he blames another man for the assault. He is charged with possessing stolen property, resisting arrest, perjury and assault.
Aug. 23, 1977, Gary escapes from New York’s Onandaga County prison by jumping from a third-floor window. He goes home to Columbus, where he soon moves to 1027 Fisk Ave.
Sept. 11, 1977, Gertrude Miller, 64, is beaten with a board and raped in her 2703 Hood St. home, about two blocks from Fisk Avenue. Her assailant leaves behind knotted stockings he took from her dresser. She in 1986 identifies Gary as the rapist.
Sept. 16, 1977, Mary Willis “Fern” Jackson, 59, of 2505 17th St., is found brutally beaten, raped and strangled with a stocking and sash. Her body is left covered. Her stolen car is later found on Benner Avenue near Fisk Avenue.
Sept. 24, 1977, Jean Dimenstein, 71, is found raped and strangled with a stocking in her home that then had the address 3027 21st St. (the street has since been renamed). Her body was left covered with sheets and a pillow Later tests match Gary’s DNA to crime-scene evidence.
Oct. 4, 1977, Gary moves to 3231 Old Buena Vista Road.
Oct. 8, 1977, the 1427 Eberhart Avenue home of sisters Callye East, 75, and Nellie Sanderson, 78, is burglarized. Sanderson’s son Henry is visiting. The intruder steals his Toyota, which has a .22-caliber Ruger pistol under the seat. The car’s left on Buena Vista Road.
Oct. 21, 1977, Florence Scheible, 89, is found raped and strangled with a stocking in her 1941 Dimon St. home, which today has a different address. Her body was left covered. Gary's right thumbprint was found on a door frame leading into Scheible's bedroom.
Oct. 25, 1977, Martha Thurmond, 70, is found raped and strangled with a stocking in her 2614 Marion St. home. Her body was covered by a pillow, blankets and sheets. Gary's fingerprint is found on the frame of a rear bedroom window.
Nov. 11, 1977, Gary moves to 2829 Ninth St. and gets a job working the late shift at Golden’s Foundry.
Dec. 16, 1977, Gary leaves the foundry job.
Dec. 20, 1977, the 1710 Buena Vista Road home of William Swift is burglarized while the residents are away. Swift later discovers the burglar removed bars from a kitchen window to get in, then set the bars back on the windowsill. Detectives later say Swift never told police this; Gary did.
Dec. 28, 1977, Kathleen Woodruff, 74, is found raped and strangled in her 1811 Buena Vista Road home, which later was demolished during an Aflac expansion. Gary's right little fingerprint is found on the aluminum window screen where the intruder entered, and his palm print is found on the windowsill just inside.
Jan. 1, 1978, the 2021 Brookside Drive home of Abraham Illges, who is 85 and whose wife is 75, is burglarized and a Cadillac stolen. The car’s left at a restaurant on Victory Drive. Police say Gary later refers to this home as “the castle.”
Feb. 11, 1978, Ruth Schwob, 74, of 1800 Carter Ave., is nearly strangled to death by an intruder she fights off, pressing a panic alarm by her bed. Police find her sitting on the edge of her bed, gasping, a stocking wrapped around her neck.
Feb. 11, 1978, the Illges home is burglarized again, but the intruder triggers an alarm and flees. Police said Gary later told them he ran and hid in Wildwood Park.
Feb. 12, 1978, Mildred Borom, 78, 1612 Forest Ave., about two blocks from Schwob’s home on the west side of Wildwood Park, is found raped and strangled with a cord cut from window blinds. Her body’s covered with a garment. This series of rapid events becomes known as “The Night of Terrors.”
April 20, 1978, Janet Cofer, 61, of 3783 Steam Mill Road, is found raped and strangled with a stocking. A pillow covers her face. Police find Cofer’s stolen car on Mill Road.
April 20, 1978, Gary robs the Burger King at 3520 Macon Road.
May 14, 1978, Gary robs the Hungry Hunter restaurant at 1834 Midtown Drive.
Sept. 4, 1978, Gary robs the Western Sizzlin restaurant at 4385 Victory Drive.
Sept. 22, 1978, Gary robs the Talk of the Town restaurant in Greenville, S.C.
Oct. 8, 1978, Gary robs the Ryan’s Steakhouse in Greenville.
Oct. 19, 1978, Gary robs the Western Sizzlin steakhouse in Greenville.
Nov. 5, 1978, Gary robs the Po’ Folks restaurant in Greenville.
Dec. 7, 1978, Gary robs Jack’s Steak House in Greenville.
Feb. 15, 1979, having earned the nickname “Steakhouse Bandit,” Gary robs a Po’ Folks restaurant in Gafney, S.C., and is arrested the next day.
Feb. 22, 1979, Gary is convicted of armed robbery in Greenville County, S.C.
March 29, 1979, Gary is convicted of armed robbery in Cherokee County, S.C.
March 15, 1984, he escapes from a prison in Columbia, S.C., and returns to Columbus.
April 3, 1984, Gary robs a Po’ Folks restaurant on the 280 Bypass in Phenix City and rapes a woman who works there.
April 10, 1984, Henry Sanderson calls Columbus police to ask about the Ruger pistol taken from his Toyota in the 1977 Eberhart Avenue burglary. A detective sends out a nationwide alert for the gun, which turns up in Michigan and is traced back to Gary.
April 16, 1984, Gary robs a Wendy’s restaurant in Gainesville, Fla.
April 22, 1984, Gary robs a McDonald’s restaurant in Montgomery, Ala.
April 28, 1984, Gary robs the County Seat Store in the Oaks Mall of Gainesville, Fla.
April 30, 1984, prompted by Sanderson’s call and the gun trace, copies of Gary’s fingerprints arrive at the Columbus Police Department, where one is matched to a print found on the frame of a screen removed from Woodruff’s home.
May 3, 1984, authorities arrest Gary in Albany, Ga.
May 4, 1984, from around midnight until 3:30 a.m., Gary takes investigators on a tour of homes he tells them he broke into. He blames the stranglings on another man.
May 8, 1984, Gary attempts suicide in jail.
May 9, 1984, then Superior Court Judge John Land appoints attorneys William Kirby and Stephen Hyles to represent Gary.
Aug. 28, 1984, attorney August “Bud” Siemon becomes Gary’s lead defense counsel.
Oct. 11, 1984, attorney Bruce Harvey becomes Gary’s co-counsel. Attorney Gary Parker joins the defense team the following December.
Feb. 8, 1985, Siemon files a motion asking Judge Land to recuse himself because he has personal knowledge of the case. Land recuses himself.
May 13, 1985, Judge E. Mullins Whisnant is assigned the case.
May 22, 1985, Siemon files a motion asking Whisnant to recuse himself because he was the district attorney during the strangling.
May 20, 1985, Whisnant recuses himself and the case is assigned to Judge Kenneth Followill.
Dec. 18, 1985, Parker withdraws as co-counsel after Followill refuses to grant the defense team funds for an investigator.
Dec. 29, 1985, Gary tries to escape from jail.
March 10, 1986, on the day Gary’s trial is to start, he refuses to get dressed and come to court. Harvey files a motion questioning Gary’s competency to stand trial, saying the defendant’s mental health is in decline. Followill orders a psychological evaluation.
March 24, 1986, Gary goes to Georgia Central State Hospital in Milledgeville for his evaluation, but refuses to cooperate with doctors.
April 21, 1986, Followill holds a trial to determine Gary’s mental competency.
April 28, 1986, the jury finds Gary competent for trial.
June 9, 1986, Gary’s trial is set to begin, but Siemon files for a change of venue.
July 2, 1986, Followill decides that instead of moving the trial, the court will bring jurors from Griffin, Ga., to hear the case.
July 7, 1986, Harvey withdraws, leaving Siemon as Gary’s only lawyer.
Aug. 11, 1986, Gary’s trial begins.
Aug. 26, 1986, the jury finds Gary guilty in three of the seven stranglings, though then District Attorney Bill Smith maintains one perpetrator committed all seven along with the attack on Miller and Schwob. Smith used evidence from the other cases to illustrate a pattern of criminal behavior.
Aug. 27, 1986, the jury sentences Gary to death.
Sept. 25, 1986, Gary moves for a new trial. His motion’s denied the following Oct. 18, and he appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court.
June 26, 1987, the Georgia Supreme Court sends the case back to Columbus, instructing the court here to determine whether Gary had ineffective counsel.
Nov. 4, 1987, Followill holds hearings to determine the effectiveness of Gary’s defense.
June 12, 1989, Followill rules Gary failed to show his counsel was ineffective.
March 6, 1990, the Georgia Supreme court upholds Followill’s ruling and reaffirms Gary’s conviction and death sentence.
Jan. 27, 1995, the superior court of Butts County, Ga., where Gary is imprisoned, rejects one of his habeas corpus appeals.
Nov. 13, 1995, the court rejects another of Gary’s habeas corpus appeals.
Nov. 18, 1997, Gary files a habeas corpus appeal in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.
Sept. 28, 2004, the federal court rejects Gary’s appeal, and he appeals to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Nov. 9, 2005, then-Coroner James Dunnavant finds a bite-cast mold made from teeth marks on Janet Cofer’s body. It has been missing since Dunnavant’s predecessor Don Kilgore died.
Nov. 23, 2005, the appeals court sends the case back to U.S. District Court to consider the bite-mark evidence.
Feb. 14, 2007, the district court holds a hearing and decides the bite cast would not have bolstered Gary’s defense and again rejects his appeal. Gary again appeals to the 11th Circuit.
Feb. 12, 2009, the 11th Circuit rejects Gary’s appeal. He appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Dec. 1, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear Gary’s appeal. His execution is set for the following Dec. 16.
Dec. 16, 2009, Gary is hours away from execution when the Georgia Supreme Court issues a stay and sends the case back to Muscogee Superior Court to consider DNA testing evidence.
Feb. 19, 2010, prosecutors and defense attorneys agree to DNA test suitable evidence samples, four items from three cases: Dimenstein, Scheible and Woodruff.
Dec. 14, 2010, attorneys say the initial DNA test results match Gary to the murder of Jean Dimenstein but not Martha Thurmond. The defense seeks testing on clothes from Gertrude Miller the morning after she was raped and beaten.
March 6, 2012, tests of the Miller evidence yield a DNA profile that does not match Gary. The prosecution says the defense can’t prove Miller was wearing the garments when raped.
Nov. 21, 2013, District Attorney Julia Slater announces the Thurmond DNA test was tainted at the state crime lab and thus invalid.
February 24-28, 2014, Judge Frank Jordan Jr. holds evidentiary hearings on Gary’s new trial motion.
Jan. 11, 2016, Doug Grubbs, son-in-law of sheriff’s investigator Don Miller, in the attic finds a briefcase containing files on the strangling. He turns it over to the sheriff’s office.
Jan. 27, the defense is told of the briefcase.
Feb. 3, both sides meet to inspect the documents. They find a composite sketch believed to have been drawn as Gertrude Miller described her assailant under hypnosis in October 1977.
Jan. 12-12, 2017, Jordan holds a final set of hearings on the new evidence in Gary’s motion for a new trial.
June 27, the prosecution files a motion asking Jordan to issue a ruling.
Sept. 1, Jordan denies Gary’s motion for a new trial in a 50-page ruling.
Sept. 20, Gary’s attorneys file for an extension of the deadline to appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Nov. 1, the defense files a 90-page application for appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Nov. 13, the prosecution responds.
Dec. 1, the Georgia Supreme Court rejects Gary’s appeal.
Jan. 16, the court refuses to reconsider.
Feb. 23, Judge Jordan issues a death warrant for Gary’s execution.
Feb. 28, the Georgia Department of Corrections sets Gary’s execution for 7 p.m. March 15, at the Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, and the state board of Pardons and Paroles schedules his clemency hearing to begin at 9 a.m. March 14 in Atlanta.