The United States Supreme Court for the third time has declined to hear the appeal of Carlton Gary, moving the “Stocking Strangler” closer to execution in Georgia’s death chamber.
The latest decision by the high court came Monday without comment. Gary had appealed the ruling of U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land that was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit.
“I am very pleased and hopeful that we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” said retired Superior Court Judge Bill Smith, who was the Muscogee County district attorney who prosecuted Gary more than two decades ago.
The next step in the Gary case is for a Muscogee County Superior Court judge to set a date for Gary’s execution for his 1986 convictions in the slayings of three elderly Columbus women in the late 1970s, Smith said. There were seven women raped and killed in the Wynnton area in 1977 and 1978. Though convicted on only three of the deaths, Gary was believed to have been responsible for all of them.
Once an execution date is set, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles will then automatically hear Gary’s appeal.
Columbus Mayor Jim Wetherington was the police chief when Gary was arrested and convicted and was a commander in the department during the time of the murders.
“Obviously, I would like to see closure,” Wetherington said Monday night. “We worked a long time on this case and we felt he was guilty. We took it to trial and got a conviction.”
Does closure mean an execution?
“That’s the sentence,” Wetherington said. “I would like to see the sentence carried out.”
Between 1999 and 2003, Wetherington was commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections. When he would visit Jackson State Prison, he would go to death row and visit Gary.
“He didn’t have much to say to me,” Wetherington said. “We would chit-chat, but he didn’t have a lot to say.”
The Gary case has lasted more than a generation. It has been 32 years since the first murder, more than 25 years since Gary’s arrest and 23 years since his conviction and death sentence in Muscogee County Superior Court.
Smith points out that since the conviction, Gary has had at least nine different courts review it on appeal.
The direct appeal went through the Georgia Supreme Court to the U.S. Supreme Court. The next appeal was filed in Butts County Superior Court because that is the county where Jackson State Prison is located. Gary is on death row at that prison. After the conviction was upheld in Butts County, it was affirmed by the state Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court again.
The latest avenue of appeal went through U.S. District Court, Middle District of Georgia to the 11th Circuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.
There have been 47 judges review the conviction, Smith said.
“And there has not been a single dissenting judge,” Smith said.