ATLANTA — The families of two young girls who were abducted and attacked 46 years ago by a Georgia man who was to be put to death last week say they are “deeply shocked and disappointed” that the execution was halted by a judge and the death warrant was allowed to expire Tuesday.
Virgil Delano Presnell Jr., 68, was due to die on May 17. He killed 8-year-old Lori Ann Smith and raped her 10-year-old friend after abducting them in May 1976 on their way home from school in Cobb County. , just outside of Atlanta.
“These families experienced this trauma repeatedly and patiently waited 46 years for closure,” the families said in a joint statement provided exclusively to The Associated Press. “They have been silent for the past 46 years, but now feel it is time to speak out about the frustration and anger they endured during the lengthy legal process.”
Presnell was convicted in August 1976 of charges of malicious murder, kidnapping and rape and was sentenced to death. His death sentence was overturned in 1992 but reinstated in March 1999.
At an emergency hearing on May 16, the day before Presnell was scheduled to receive a lethal injection, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shermela Williams issued an order temporarily preventing the state from proceeding at runtime.
The state appealed its order the next day, but the Georgia Supreme Court did not immediately rule on that appeal. The stay remains in effect and the execution warrant which had been valid for seven days expired Tuesday at noon.
Lisa Smith, Lori’s older sister, said Presnell had done so much damage to her family and “it’s been slow and painful waiting for her day to finally come”. She told the State Board of Pardons and Parole in a closed hearing last week that “Presnell needs to be put to death, we’ve all waited long enough.”
“Presnell left wounds that will never heal,” she said in her statement to the parole board, a copy of which the family provided to the AP. “He instilled in me fears as a kid that no one should ever have, he taught me at 12 to be afraid of everyone – don’t trust anyone – you’re never safe. “
Their father, Scott Smith, told the parole board that “the grief is as fresh today as it was 46 years ago when she was brutally murdered and taken from her family.”
The five-member parole board is the only authority in Georgia that can commute a death sentence. Following the May 16 clemency hearing, the council declined to commute Presnell’s sentence or stay his execution.
It was several hours later that Williams ordered the state not to carry out the execution the following day. His order came in response to a lawsuit and an emergency motion filed by Presnell’s lawyers.
They alleged the state violated an agreement that effectively suspended executions during the coronavirus pandemic and established the conditions under which they could resume. The lawsuit alleges that these conditions were not met before Presnell’s execution was scheduled.
Because the execution date was set prematurely, according to the lawsuit, Presnell’s attorney did not have enough time to prepare for his clemency hearing.
Williams’ order barred the state for 30 days from proceeding with the execution of any death row inmate covered by the agreement.
Presnell’s attorney, Monet Brewerton-Palmer, wrote in a clemency petition that Presnell’s mother’s heavy drinking while pregnant left him “profoundly brain damaged” and not didn’t understand the hurt he was causing the girls. But due to COVID-19 restrictions on prison travel and visitation and the short notice before the execution date, the lawyer was unable to provide sufficient witnesses and evidence during the trial. clemency hearing, the trial says.
In a separate court filing that remains pending in the state Supreme Court, Presnell’s attorneys argued that his execution would be unconstitutional because he has a cognitive impairment that causes him to function as a young child or someone with a disability. intellectual disability.
Presnell abducted the two girls as they walked home along a wooded path from school. He drove them to a secluded wooded area, made them strip naked and raped the eldest daughter, according to trial evidence described in a Georgia Supreme Court decision. Lori tried to run, but Presnell grabbed her and drowned her in a stream, according to the decision.
He locked the 10-year-old girl in the trunk of his car then left her in a wooded area when he had a flat tire, saying he would be back. She ran to a nearby gas station and described Presnell and her car to police.
Officers found him changing his tire at his apartment complex. He initially denied everything, but then led the police to Lori’s body and confessed, according to the ruling.
Donna Smith Koon was 11 when Lori died. She described her cousin as “a tomboyish, rough, tumble kind of kid” who was “always up for an adventure” and had a “big, wonderful smile that lit up his whole face”.
At the time, Koon’s parents only told him the basic details of what happened. It was not until Presnell’s reimposition trial in 1999 that Koon learned the details of his cousin’s death.
“As the timeline of that day was established and every painful and torturous moment was told about what had happened to these 2 little girls, the anger inside me started to rise, I couldn’t believe what they had been through. “, said his statement to the said the parole board.
“Our family has been patient and we have seen one call after another and the others climb the ranks to be judged, they have all been exhausted, there are no more calls, once again it is time , it’s time to execute the punishment,” Koon wrote.
She said her family wanted Presnell’s punishment carried out so they could “stop talking about Lori’s death and start celebrating her short life.”
New York Post