Awaiting execution this week, Robert Earl Butts Jr. asks for clemency

The gurney used for lethal injections sits behind glass windows in a small cinder block building at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. (Ben Gray/Staff)

The gurney used for lethal injections sits behind glass windows in a small cinder block building at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. (Ben Gray/Staff)

A Milledgeville man sentenced to death for a killing an off-duty prison guard 22 years ago deserves clemency because of his tough life circumstances and the changing testimony of witnesses who said he pulled the trigger, his attorneys argue.

Robert Earl Butts Jr., who is scheduled to die Thursday night at 7 p.m., did not pull the trigger on the sawed-off shotgun used to kill Donovan Corey Parks; his partner did, according to his petition for clemency that was released Tuesday.

The petition asks the State Board of Pardons and Paroles to consider Butts’ troubled life — a mentally ill father and an alcoholic and drug-addicted mother who brought several men into her children’s lives — as the five members weigh his request to stop his execution.

“There are compelling reasons for this board to … commute Robert Jr.’s death sentence,” his lawyers wrote. “The profound childhood neglect he endured as his parents left him to care for his younger siblings while they roamed the streets of Milledgeville, each in the grip of mental illness, drug addiction or both… The circumstances of Robert Jr.’s life both before and after the night of the crime offer additional and compelling grounds for mercy.”

Marion Wilson (left) and Robert Earl Butts (right) were convicted of the same murder. Butts is set to die on May 3 while Wilson's case is getting a second look. PHOTO: Courtesy Georgia Department of Corrections.

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The clemency request also noted Butts was 18 when he murdered Parks on March 28, 1996, in Milledgeville before taking the correctional officer’s car in the hopes of selling it for parts. The petition claimed that the same crime, if taken to a jury today, would not likely end in a death sentence.

And, the attorneys wrote, two witnesses lied when they testified that Butts told them he was the trigger man. Now, those witnesses allegedly say Marion "Murdock" Wilson, whose appeal of his own death sentence is pending before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, told them he actually killed the officer. The witnesses say Wilson asked them to lie for him because he was about to become a father.

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Wednesday morning, the Parole Board will hear from Butt's lawyers and his advocates. In the afternoon, law enforcement and others who want to see the lethal injection carried out will meet with the board.

If Butts is put to death, he will be the second man Georgia has executed this year.

According to testimony, in 1996, FOLK Nation gang members Butts and Wilson were at a Milledgeville Walmart, "shopping for somebody to kill" when they crossed paths with Parks, who was there to buy cat food.

Parks knew Butts from when he and Butts both worked at a local Burger King.

Butts ask Parks for a ride and 16 minutes later Butts pulled out the sawed-off shotgun he had hidden in the sleeve of his jacket. Butts walked Parks to the back of the car where he shot him in the head, leaving the 25-year-old correctional officer lying face down in the middle of the road.

Soon after Butts and Wilson drove off in Parks’ Acura, the dead man’s father drove up on the body, but did not recognize his own son. Butts and Wilson eventually set fire to the stolen car behind a Macon Huddle House after they could find nowhere in Atlanta that would buy the Acura for its parts.

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While Butts could be put to death as soon as Thursday evening, Wilson has more time. The day after Butts’ execution warrant was signed on March 16, the U.S. Supreme Court sent Wilson’s case back to the federal appeals court in Atlanta with instructions to take another look.

Butts’s attorneys say he is no longer affiliated with any gangs and has been a model prisoner except for the few times he was caught with contraband like tobacco, marijuana and a cell phone. He also married a “recently-widowed” former correctional officer in 2010.

The dead man's father, Freddie Parks, said he will meet with the Parole Board to ask that his son's killer be executed. 

“It certainly is a rough time,” Freddie Parks, now 75, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This is something I wouldn’t want nobody in the world to go through. Having to walk in my shoes the last 22 years is a hard thing to do.”