Georgia to execute convicted murderer

Brian Terrell, 47, says that he is innocent of the 1992 murder, and no physical evidence ties him to the crime

This undated photo released by the Georgia Department of Corrections shows Brian Keith Terrell.
Georgia Department of Corrections/AP Photo

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a stay of execution sought by a Georgia man scheduled to receive a lethal injection for the 1992 killing of a friend of his mother.

The high court released a brief statement shortly after 11 p.m. Tuesday saying the request for a stay had been presented to Justice Clarence Thomas for the court and that it had been denied. No explanation was given.

Brian Keith Terrell was originally scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m. Tuesday though the time passed as his lawyers presented a series of late filings to the nation's highest court. Terrell was convicted of murder in the June 1992 killing of 70-year-old John Watson.

Earlier appeals to halt the planned execution had been denied by other courts.

Terrell's lawyers say their client is innocent, that no physical evidence connects him to the crime and prosecutors used false and misleading testimony to get the conviction. State lawyers say courts have already heard and rejected the defense arguments.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, which is the only entity with the authority to commute a death sentence, on Monday denied Terrell's request for clemency. He filed appeals Tuesday after state and federal courts rejected his challenges.

In the afternoon, however, the state Supreme Court unanimously denied a stay of execution. He will be the fifth inmate to be executed in Georgia in 2015.

Opponents of the death penalty have scheduled vigils across the state in protest of the execution. After Terrell's stay was denied, Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFADP) released a statement arguing that there were "serious doubts about his guilt."

"Going forward with this execution will only compound tragedy," said Kathryn Hamoudah, chair of GFADP. "Brian Terrell still has strong innocence claims. There is not room for doubt when a person's life is on the line." 

Terrell was on parole when he stole and forged checks belonging to Watson, who reported the theft but asked police not to pursue charges if Terrell returned most of the money. On the day Terrell was to return the money, he had his cousin drive him to Watson's house, where he shot the 70-year-old man several times and severely beat him, lawyers for the state have said.

Terrell's cousin, Jermaine Johnson, was his co-defendant and had been in jail for more than a year facing the possibility of the death penalty when he agreed to a deal with prosecutors to testify against Terrell. Johnson was allowed to plead guilty to a robbery charge, receiving a five-year prison sentence.

A defense investigator wrote in a sworn statement that Johnson told her and defense attorney Gerald King that he was 18 and facing the death penalty and was pressured by police and the prosecutor to testify against his cousin. He said he'd like to give a sworn statement telling the truth but is afraid he might be arrested and put in prison for perjury if he does, Goodwill wrote.

Prosecutors also misleadingly presented the testimony of a neighbor of Watson's, incorrectly asserting that she said she saw Terrell at the scene, Terrell's lawyers wrote.

Terrell has also filed a court challenge saying the state cannot ensure the safety or efficacy of the drug it plans to use to execute him. A federal court on Thursday rejected that challenge, and Terrell appealed to the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals.

He was previously set for execution on March 10. But after Department of Corrections officials discovered solid chunks had formed in the drug that was to be used in the execution of Kelly Gissendaner on March 2, they temporarily suspended all executions to allow time for an analysis of the compounded pentobarbital.

The state has said that the most likely cause for the precipitation in the drug was because it was shipped and stored at a temperature that was too cold. The state has taken precautions to prevent that from happening again and would not proceed with an execution if a problem with the drug was discovered, state lawyers added.

Gissendaner was executed Sept. 30 and another inmate, Marcus Ray Johnson, was executed Nov. 19.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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