ATLANTA — A judge on Monday temporarily delayed the execution of a Georgia man who was due to die Tuesday for killing an 8-year-old girl 46 years ago.
Virgil Delano Presnell Jr., 68, killed the girl and raped her 10-year-old friend after abducting them on their way home from school in Cobb County, just outside Atlanta, on May 4, 1976. He was to die by injection. sedative pentobarbital at Jackson State Prison at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Ruling from the bench following a hearing that lasted more than eight hours on Monday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shermela Williams issued an order temporarily restraining the state from proceeding with the execution on Tuesday. She was speaking out in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Presnell’s attorneys which alleged that by setting an execution date, the state violated an agreement that effectively suspended executions during the coronavirus pandemic and set out the terms under which they could to resume.
State attorneys have said they will appeal the judge’s decision so the execution can go ahead as planned.
Earlier Monday, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, the only authority in Georgia that can commute a death sentence, refused to stop Presnell’s execution.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of the Federal Defender Program, which represents Presnell, alleges that the agreement stipulated that, with one exception, executions would not resume until six months after three conditions were met: the expiration of the COVID court order -19 from the state. emergency, the resumption of normal visits to state prisons and the availability of a COVID vaccine “for all members of the public”.
The legal emergency ended in June, but prisons are still using a modified visitation policy and children under 5 still cannot access the vaccine, Mike Caplan, an attorney representing the Federal Defender Program, pleaded before the tribunal.
Jonathan Loegel, a state attorney, argued that the deal was not a binding contract and also said the state “has largely complied” with its terms. He said visits had “resumed in our new normal” and the vaccine had been widely available for a year.
The agreement stated that once conditions were met, the state intended to seek an execution date for Billy Raulerson, who was sentenced to death for the May 1993 murders of three people in southern Georgia, and that Raulerson’s lawyers would have at least three months. notice after the conditions have been met, according to the lawsuit. The attorney general’s office said it would not seek the execution of anyone else covered by the agreement until at least six months after the conditions were met, the lawsuit says.
In late April, the attorney general’s office informed Raulerson’s attorney that the state intended to schedule Raulerson’s execution for May 17, the lawsuit says. After Raulerson’s attorney reminded a prosecutor that she had agreed not to schedule the execution during her previously scheduled vacation, the prosecutor told her that Raulerson’s execution would not be scheduled until August at the earliest. .
A few days later, on April 25, the state’s attorney informed Presnell’s attorney, Monet Brewerton-Palmer, that the state intended to seek a warrant of execution against him, the lawsuit says. The warrant was issued on April 27.
Contrary to the agreement, the attorney general gave Brewerton-Palmer only two days notice that he intended to set his execution date, according to the lawsuit. That didn’t give him enough time to prepare for his clemency hearing on Monday, according to the lawsuit.
The clemency hearing lasted only an hour Monday morning and Brewerton-Palmer did not call any witnesses or experts to testify or submit the dozens of witnesses she would otherwise have provided, Caplan said.
“It’s often the best hope a death row inmate has of not being executed,” Caplan said. “His clemency case this morning has been completely cleared.”
In a clemency application submitted to the parole board, Brewerton-Palmer had argued that he was “profoundly brain damaged” and did not understand the harm he was causing the two girls. But due to COVID restrictions on visits and travel and an expert witness who recently suffered from a heart condition, she was unable to testify in support.
Brewerton-Palmer had been working on Presnell’s case, but it “wasn’t on his radar as an emergency” because of the deal, Caplan argued. He urged the judge to delay the execution to give Brewerton-Palmer time to complete its investigation and properly prepare for a new clemency hearing.
It is in the public interest to ensure that promises made by the state are kept and to avoid any perception that Presnell would be executed prematurely when his lawyer was unprepared to present a clemency case, said said Caplan.
Loegel argued that the state had an interest in ensuring prompt and expeditious administration of justice and that delaying execution would prevent this. Brewerton-Palmer has known since last fall that Presnell has exhausted his appeals and therefore had enough time to prepare, he argued.
Williams said it was clear to her that the emailed agreement was meant to be binding on the parties. The Federal Defender program was prevented by COVID-related causes from preparing as it would have and relied on the agreement, she said.
Clearly Presnell, whom she allowed to intervene in the trial, risked irreparable harm if the execution was not delayed, the judge said: “We cannot come back from death.”
New York Post