Georgia Supreme Court grants inmate stay of execution

The Georgia Supreme Court granted a stay of execution to Ray “Jeff” Cromartie, who had been set to die tonight.

The stay is provisional and focuses on whether the execution order was properly filed earlier this month in Thomas County Superior Court while the Supreme Court had jurisdiction over the case. The Georgia Attorney General’s Office, which represents the state in capital cases, conceded later in the day that the execution order was void and said it would “immediately” seek a new order.

It wasn’t clear how immediate it would be, but the high court’s ruling meant at the very least the execution wouldn’t move forward Wednesday.

Cromartie had been set to be executed at 7 p.m. today by a lethal injection of pentobarbitol, but he was awaiting word on last-minute appeals, which is how the Supreme Court ended up with jurisdiction over the case. The 52-year-old has been hoping for a court to order new DNA testing, which he said could prove it was actually his accomplice who killed store clerk Richard Slysz, 50, during a robbery attempt in April 1994.

Before granting the stay, the Supreme Court had shot down Cromartie’s appeal for the testing even as the victim’s daughter spoke out in favor of the measure. The court’s order to stay the execution only mentioned the procedural issue and did not signal any new openness to Cromartie’s requests.

Shawn Nolan, one of Cromartie’s attorneys, renewed calls for DNA testing on Wednesday. “The public has a strong interest in allowing DNA testing because the execution of an innocent person would be the gravest miscarriage of justice.”

The question of who pulled the trigger at Junior Food Store in Thomasville, near the Florida border, has been in dispute for 25 years.

Cromartie says it was co-defendant Corey Clark; Clark testified that it was Cromartie.

Clark and getaway driver, Thad Lucas, both testified for the state, avoiding the death penalty and murder charges. They have been free from prison since the early 2000s.

Clark, who has been wanted for an alleged parole violation since 2015, couldn’t be reached for comment. Lucas said last week he still wasn’t sure who the shooter was, because he couldn’t see what happened from the car.

The Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison in Jackson, which houses the state’s execution chamber. (Ben Gray/ AJC file photo)

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