After a few hours of deliberations, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency early Wednesday evening to convicted double murderer Scotty Morrow.
The decision followed more than five hours of testimony, most of it from Morrow’s supporters who said the condemned man was genuinely remorseful. It required just a simple majority of votes from the four men and one woman who make up the pardons board. They deliberated separately and gave no reasons for why and how they reached their conclusion.
The odds were against Morrow the 52-year-old Gainesville man from the start. Only 11 death sentences have been commuted by the board since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
And Morrow’s crimes, however out of character, were particularly heinous. On December 29, 1994, he fatally shot his ex-girlfriend Barbara Ann Young and her friend, Tonya Woods, in the head after Young informed him she would not take him back. The murders occurred inside Young’s home, witnessed by her 5-year-old son — one of five children she left behind.
Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh urged the the board to go through with the execution. Clemency hearings are held behind closed doors and Darragh did not return a phone call seeking comment.
While Darragh spoke of the murders and their impact, Morrow’s attorneys asked the board to consider their client’s life before and after his bloody rampage.
A wide array of Morrow’s supporters spoke on the 52-year-old Gainesville man’s behalf. Testimony began 34 hours before Morrow’s scheduled execution: 7 p.m. Thursday, inside the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, where he has spent nearly one-third of his life.
Speakers included Morrow’s son and namesake, counselors who treated him, pastors who ministered to him and even a prison guard who monitored him on death row.
“It is very rare that I would speak out for a death sentenced inmate but if anyone deserves clemency, it is Scotty Morrow,” former corrections officer William Wallace said in a clemency petition released on Tuesday.
On Twitter, Sister Helen Prejean, a leading opponent of the death penalty whose work inspired the acclaimed 1995 film “Dead Man Walking,” urged the pardons board to spare Morrow’s life.
“This is yet another case where the jury did not have the whole story before recommending a death sentence,” Prejean tweeted. “After hearing the truth, a majority of the trial jurors are now comfortable with a life sentence.”
Morrow, according to his lawyers, witnessed and experienced abuse throughout his childhood. At 3 years old, he watched his father stomp on his pregnant mother’s abdomen, causing her to miscarry. They eventually fled to a relative’s home. That family member began raping Morrow when he was 7, say his lawyers. A year later, he was raped again by another relative.
The family relocated to New York, but Morrow could not escape the abuse. His clemency petition states that he was beaten repeatedly by his mother’s new boyfriend.
Much of that evidence was not presented to the Hall County jury that sentenced Morrow to death in 1999. In 2011, a state court judge overturned Morrow’s sentence, ruling that his counsel “failed to deliver on their promise to the jury” to explain their client’s crime.
That decision was later reversed by the Georgia Supreme Court, which reinstated the death sentence.
According to the Department of Corrections, Morrow has requested a final meal: a hamburger topped with mayonnaise, chicken and waffles, a pint of butter pecan ice cream, a bag of buttered popcorn, two all-beef franks and a large lemonade. More appeals will be filed in the remaining hours, but clemency was likely Morrow’s best chance.
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