Nathan Deal leaning against a pardon for Leo Frank

A former governor, an ex-Georgia Supreme Court chief and a slew of other notable officials have urged state leaders in recent days to grant Leo Frank a full pardon for the 1913 murder of a teenage factory worker.

But it's not likely to get very far without the support of Gov. Nathan Deal, who appoints the pardons and parole board and can request that they act. On Tuesday, Deal indicated he has little appetite to reopen the case.

A little backstory: Frank was a Jewish factory superintendent convicted of the 1913 murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan on circumstantial evidence as much of the city was wrapped up in racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric. His death sentence was commuted by Gov. John Slaton, but he was seized by a Marietta posse and strung up on an oak tree along where Interstate 75 now runs.

As he decides whether to intervene, Deal said he will discuss the case with Attorney General Sam Olens -- an interesting qualifier, given that Olens is Jewish.

(Olens said through a spokesman that he'd happily discuss the case with the governor when asked. A parole board spokesman said it hasn't received any requests to reopen the case.)

But the governor said he's uncomfortable with "some of the rhetoric associated with the justification" of the pardon. Your daily jolt on politics from the AJC's Political insider blog

When pressed on what he meant, Deal added: "When you hear someone start saying this is an indication we should do away with the death penalty in Georgia, those are collateral issues. If they associate it with this, they're doing harm to their own argument."

He's referring to Norman Fletcher, the former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court and ardent opponent of capital punishment.

Fletcher told a panel discussing Frank's case Sunday that Georgia should "end the practice of the state doing the same thing as the accused: taking the life of a human being, created in the image of God."

***

The Carter Center is about to become the center of the media world, with a morning press conference in which former President Jimmy Carter tells us how he intends to address his cancer:

***

A fight over Confederate symbolism has broken out at Effingham County High School in southeast Georgia. From WTOC:

The petition - made by the local NAACP - is for the school board to remove the use of all confederate symbols used by the school. This includes the Rebel mascot, the use of the Confederate flag, and the school's "Dixie" fight song.

What’s different is that the local Southern Baptist pastor is siding with those who say such things should go:

Pastor Franklin Blanks, Jr., First Union Baptist Church, said, "We should do better. We cannot ignore this practice any longer. We ask you to do the respect of representing all citizens. Do what is fair and honest concerning this practice."

But the overwhelming majority of people who attended Tuesday’s meeting disagreed.

***

A Crawford County coroner found himself out of work Wednesday.

Gov. Nathan Deal issued an executive order suspending the coroner, Allen O'Neal, from office pending the outcome of a criminal case against him. The Macon Telegraph has the backstory:

Crawford County grand jurors indicted O’Neal two months ago on two counts alleging he violated his oath of office by not responding to a death call May 2 and firing a deputy coroner because he did respond....

Contacted Wednesday, O’Neal’s lawyer Michelle Smith said, “We’re disappointed, but we’re not surprised.”

Since his arrest, O’Neal has maintained that he’s done nothing wrong. Smith said Wednesday that the death call in question was “not suspicious,” and it followed a hospital stay.

***

A Democrat has lined up to run against Brookhaven Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams.

John Ernst, who recently resigned as chair of the DeKalb Board of Ethics, announced he wants to develop a "Brookhaven Beltline" and create open and more transparent government.

Williams replaced J. Max Davis, who lost to Taylor Bennett in an upset defeat for an open Georgia House seat vacated by Mike Jacobs when he was tapped for a judgeship. Follow that?

***

In yet another sign that he may be aiming at a 2018 race for governor, former Republican congressman Jack Kingston of Savannah has been placed in charge of the Georgia Republican Party Foundation, the state GOP’s primary fund-raising arm. From the press release:

“Kingston brings a wealth of fundraising experience, a Rolodex like few others, and a well-known penchant for frugality. Jack has raised tens of millions of dollars for Republican campaigns and conservative causes.”

We're just impressed that someone at the Georgia GOP knows what a Rolodex is. Or was.

***

Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Tucker, and the Senate Democratic caucus as a whole has attracted the attention of the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He’s invited them to accept a leadership award in his name in October. The reason:

“We think your stand on the transportation bill in defense of minority business enterprise, along with that of Vincent Fort, David Lucas, Horacena Tate, Gloria Butler and Gail Davenport and the entire minority caucus, offers the perfect exemplar of public service.”

***

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, is the only remaining member of the Georgia delegation whose vote is in doubt on the Iran nuclear deal. The Republicans and Democrat David Scott have indicated they are against it, while Democrats John Lewis and Hank Johnson have had kind words.

Bishop told WALB-Albany he's leaning toward supporting the deal:

Bishop says he hasn't decided for sure, but walking away from the deal could cause serious problems.

He says he has listened to military, intelligence and nuclear non-proliferation experts who support the deal which President Obama says would prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. "It's a step in the right direction," Bishop said. "If not this agreement, then what? I've not heard a satisfactory explanation from the critics as to what the alternative is."

In related news, the Associated Press got hold of a version of a "side agreement" with the IAEA:

Iran will be allowed to use its own inspectors to investigate a site it has been accused of using to develop nuclear arms, operating under a secret agreement with the U.N. agency that normally carries out such work, according to a document seen by The Associated Press.

The revelation on Wednesday newly riled Republican lawmakers in the U.S. who have been severely critical of a broader agreement to limit Iran's future nuclear programs, signed by the Obama administration, Iran and five world powers in July. Those critics have complained that the wider deal is unwisely built on trust of the Iranians, while the administration has insisted it depends on reliable inspections.

***

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has picked up another Gold Dome endorsement for president. Freshman state Rep. Jeff Jones, R-Brunswick, told us in an email:

"My reasons for endorsing Ted Cruz are simple, despite the fact that the problems facing America are complex. Ted is a true constitutional conservative. I believe Ted Cruz embodies and possesses the vision, the belief system, the values and, more importantly, the strength of character and leadership to turn this ship we call America back on a course to true exceptionalism."

State Sens. Josh McKoon, William Ligon, Mike Crane and Marty Harbin are also on board.

***

Your Bizarre and Sad Donald Trump Story of the Day comes from the Boston Globe:

The homeless man was lying on the ground, shaking, when police arrived early Wednesday. His face was soaked, apparently with urine, his nose broken, his chest and arms battered.

Police said two brothers from South Boston ambushed the 58-year-old as he slept outside of a Dorchester MBTA stop, and targeted him because he is Hispanic. One of the brothers said he was inspired in part by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Trump, told of the alleged assault, said “it would be a shame . . . I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.”

***

Well, now he's got time on his hands. More than 75,000 people have signed an online petition for Jon Stewart to moderate one of the presidential debates.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
X