Execution set for Georgia inmate amid DNA fight

Undated photo of Georgia death row inmate Ray Jefferson Cromartie. The 52-year-old Cromartie is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Oct. 30, 2019. Cromartie was convicted in the April 1994 slaying of Richard Slysz at a convenience store in Thomasville, just north of the Florida border. CREDIT: Georgia Department of Corrections via AP

Credit: Georgia Department of Corrections via AP

Credit: Georgia Department of Corrections via AP

An execution date was announced Wednesday for Georgia inmate Ray Jefferson Cromartie after he and his attorneys failed in a push for new DNA testing.

Cromartie, who was convicted of the 1994 murder of a store clerk in South Georgia, is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Oct. 30 in the state’s death chamber in Jackson. Richard Slysz was shot twice in the head when Cromartie and Corey Clark robbed Junior Food Store in Thomasville, which is near the Florida border. Cromartie has maintained he wasn’t the one who shot Slysz, and his attorneys say the state shouldn’t be opposed to testing the physical evidence to settle the question. Clark, as well as another accomplice, testified for the state against Cromartie.

The state “did not test any of it before trial and is fighting against testing it now, over 20 years later,” said defense attorney Shawn Nolan. “DNA testing will provide a reliable answer to the question of whether Mr. Cromartie was the shooter in Mr. Slysz’s tragic death. Even the victim’s daughter has come out in favor of DNA testing.”

Thomas County Judge Frank D. Horkan denied the request for DNA testing last month. The judge wrote in his ruling that it was not clear that the testing would have made a difference in the verdict, according to the Thomasville Times-Enterprise. Horkan also said Cromartie should have asked sooner: "(The) defendant sat on his request until all other avenues were closed."

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

Cromartie’s attorneys appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court last week. The court hasn’t ruled.

Cromartie and Clark entered the store in the early hours of April 10, 1994. The first gunshot entered Slysz’s head under his right eye, a wound that authorities say would not have caused him to lose consciousness. The second bullet struck his left temple. After Slysz was shot, the men tried to get into the cash register. They failed and settled for two 12-packs of Budweiser.

Because of Georgia’s party to a crime statute, Cromartie would still be eligible for the death penalty whether he pulled the trigger or not.

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Cromartie’s death sentence was handed down in 1997 for the killing of Slysz and the assault of Dan Wilson, another store clerk who was shot in the face three days before Slysz but survived. Clark and Thaddeus Lucas, who was said to have been the driver for Cromartie and Clark, received lesser sentences and are both out of prison. Clark got out in 2005. Cromartie’s attorneys claimed in a court filing that Clark has been wanted by the state parole board for five years.

Elizabeth Legette, Slysz’s daughter, wrote a letter in support of Cromartie’s request for DNA testing.

“My father’s death was senseless. Executing another man would also be senseless, especially if he may not have shot my father,” she wrote in the letter, released by Cromartie’s attorneys.

If Cromartie is killed, he would be the third Georgia inmate executed by a lethal dose of pentobarbital this year.

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