Georgia Department of Corrections/Getty Images

Georgia executes convicted murderer

Brian Terrell claimed that he was innocent of 1992 murder; US Supreme Court denied a stay of execution

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

The State of Georgia on Wednesday executed a man who was convicted of forging checks and killing a close friend of his mother. Brian Terrell, who claimed until his death that he did not commit the murder, was executed at the state prison in Jackson.

Prison Warden Bruce Chatman announced that the time of death for Brian Keith Terrell was 12:52 a.m. A statement from the Corrections Department said Terrell accepted a final prayer and refused to record a final statement.

Terrell, 47, was convicted in the June 1992 killing of John Watson in Covington, a city about 35 miles east of Atlanta.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay of execution, releasing 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.

Terrell was originally scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Earlier appeals to halt the planned execution had been denied by other courts.

When Chatman asked if he wanted to record a final statement, Terrell said, "No, sir." But he did accept a final prayer.

Terrell lifted his head after the prayer and shook it while looking out at the front row where Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown and other state witnesses were seated.

The warden left the execution chamber at 12:29 p.m. Records from previous executions show the lethal drug generally starts flowing within a minute or two after the warden's exit.

Terrell lifted his head again and looked out at the front row twice after the warden left and also shook his head back and forth multiple times while laying on the gurney.

Four news reporters witnessed the execution, but only a reporter from the Newton Citizen newspaper was allowed to be in the room when Terrell was strapped to the gurney and IV lines were placed. She said nurses appeared to have trouble placing the needle in his left arm, and the process took about an hour, which is longer than usual.

Terrell's lawyers said their client was innocent, that no physical evidence connected him to the crime and that prosecutors used false and misleading testimony to get the conviction. They filed for a stay of execution on Tuesday, which was denied by the Georgia State Supreme Court just hours before the execution took place.

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.

Terrell was the fifth inmate to be executed in Georgia in 2015.

Opponents of the death penalty 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 had also filed a court challenge saying the state could not ensure the safety or efficacy of the drug it planned 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 had 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.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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