Parole Board denies clemency for Gregory Lawler

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Parole Board denies clemency for Gregory Lawler

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Atlanta Police Officers, sit patiently on Oct. 14, 1997 in Municipal Court in Atlanta, to hear the outcome from the arraignment of Gregory Paul Lawler, then accused of killing one Atlanta police officer and critically wounding another. (AJC Staff Photo/Dwight Ross Jr.) 10/97

Just an hour after hearing from those who wanted to see Atlanta cop killer Gregory Lawler executed, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied his request for clemency.

Lawler, 63, is scheduled to be executed Wednesday at 7 p.m. for the Oct. 12,1979, murder of Atlanta police officer John “Rick” Sowa. Sowa’s partner, Pat Cocciolone, was critically wounded in the shooting that came moments after the two officers had walked Lawler’s drunk girlfriend to the door of the apartment they shared.

For three hours this morning, the five member board heard pleas from Lawler’s brother and lawyers to spare him because Lawler just learned three weeks ago that he is autistic and that worked against him when he testified at his trial in 2000 and when he was interviewed by a board investigator last week.

Sowa’s widow, his sister, Cocciolone and Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard spent about 1 1/2 hours with the board Tuesday afternoon.

On a Sunday evening 19 years and one week ago, Sowa and Cocciolone were dispatched to investigate a report of a man hitting a woman with a bag in a parking lot hear the intersection of Piedmont Avenue and Lindbergh Drive. They came up on Lawler trying to pull his girlfriend, Donna Rodgers, to her feet. After Lawler walked off, the officers decided to drive the intoxicated woman home.

Moments after Rodgers had walked into the apartment she shared with Lawler, Lawler shot the fleeing officers with armor-piercing bullets. Sowa died on the lawn while Cocciolone, though wounded, called for help. Both officers still had their guns holstered.

If he is executed, Lawler will be the seventh person Georgia has put to death this year, which is more than any other year since the current death penalty law was adopted her 40 years ago. Only Texas has executed as many as seven people since Jan. 1.

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