In 2016, Georgia executed eight people, more than in any other year since 1957. It is possible there will be one more before the year ends. (Ben Gray/Staff)
Photo: Ben Gray
Photo: Ben Gray

Georgia's death row in 2016: The killers and those they killed

The state leads the nation in executions this year

Georgia’s stepped-up pace has thrust the state into the lead, surpassing even Texas — which on the whole has carried out almost eight times as many executions as Georgia since the death penalty was reinstated four decades ago: Georgia has killed 69 prisoners; Texas has killed 538. 

For the most part, the reason Georgia is using its death chamber more frequently is because a large number of inmates have simply exhausted their appeals. Also, the legal issues that had been a barrier in recent years — the use of lethal injection drugs, which ones the state uses, and Georgia’s secrecy law — have been resolved.  

There are 58 men on Georgia’s death row.  

Following are the nine men executed in 2016. 

Brandon Astor Jones (Feb. 3)

Brandon Astor Jones was the oldest man on Georgia’s death row when he was executed for murdering Roger Tackett, a convenience store manager.  

Jones and Roosevelt Solomon were already in the store when a police officer pulled up at the Cobb County Tenneco station just after midnight on June 17, 1979. The lights were on past the closing time, which raised the officer’s suspicions. Just as the policeman looked through a store window, Jones peeked out of the storeroom. There were four shots. The officer found Jones and Solomon still inside, and Tackett dead on the storeroom floor. Solomon was electrocuted in 1985. Jones was executed more than 30 years later, at age 72.  

Final words: None. 

Travis Hittson (Feb. 17)

Travis Hittson was a 21-year-old Navy seaman on an aircraft carrier based in Pensacola when he and two buddies traveled to Middle Georgia for a weekend. Chief Petty Officer Edward Vollmer, Hittson and shipmate Conway Utterbeck planned to stay at Vollmer’s parents’ home while they were away.  

They spent that Saturday afternoon in April 1992 drinking at the Vollmer house, then Hittson and Vollmer decided to hit a local bar. Utterbeck stayed behind. It was on the drive back that Hittson and Vollmer decided to murder Utterbeck. Hittson beat Utterbeck with a bat and shot him. Then they dismembered him, burying Utterbeck’s torso in Houston County and taking the rest of his body parts to Pensacola. Vollmer pleaded guilty in exchange for a life sentence with the possibility of parole. Hittson went to trial and was sentenced to die. He was 45 when executed.  

Final words: “No, sir, I’m alright.”  

Victim: Conway Utterbeck was stationed aboard the USS Forrestal in Pensacola when he met Hittson and Vollmer on his job assignment. According to court records he was murdered only because Vollmer convinced Hittson that Utterbeck had a hit list and they were on it. Utterbeck was asleep in a recliner when the two men came home and attacked him. Utterbeck asked “why?” as he pleaded for his life.  

Initially, Navy officials just made note of Utterbeck’s unauthorized absence. They opened an investigation only after Utterbeck’s mother called because she had not heard from her son in a month. Six weeks after the murder, a logger in Houston County found Utterbeck’s torso. 

Joshua Bishop (March 31)

Photo: AP

Final words: “I apologize to the people of Baldwin County and to the Morrison family. I’d also like to thank all the people who stood by me.”  

Victim: Leverette Morrison might have been Bishop’s uncle. No one knows for sure. In answer to her son’s repeated questions about his father, Bishop’s mother named Morrison’s brother, Albert Ray Morrison, as one of three possibilities. “I don’t really know for sure,” Albert Morrison wrote in Bishop’s clemency petition. “His mama, Carolyn, went with a lot of men, including me and Leverette.”  

Kenneth Fults (April 12)

Photo: Cook, Rhonda (CMG-Atlanta)

Kenneth Fults was jealous and had been on a weeklong crime spree in January 1996. His goal was to steal a gun so he could kill his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. He broke into the trailer of his next-door neighbor in the hope of finding one. Cathy Bounds’ was home alone, her live-in boyfriend having just left for work moments earlier. Fults wrapped 6 feet of electrical tape around Bounds’ eyes, put her face-down on a bed, placed a pillow over the back of her head and fired five times. Fults pleaded guilty to murder, but still claimed he was in a trance-like state when he did it. Fults was 47 when he was executed.  

Final words: “Amen.”  

Victim: Cathy Bounds, 19, was about to begin her day when Fults entered her home, wearing gloves and a hat pulled over his eyes. Bounds begged for her life, offering him the rings on her fingers. He responded by shooting her with a stolen .22-caliber handgun.  

Daniel Anthony Lucas (April 27)

Final words: “To the Moss family, I’m sorry for Mrs. Moss. And to family and friends, I love them. All beings are basically good, all beings are basically kind, all beings are basically strong, all beings are basically wise.” 

Photo: Cook, Rhonda (CMG-Atlanta)

Victims: Bryan, Kristin and Steven Moss were killed in their own home on April 23, 1998. The day he was murdered, Bryan was supposed to play with a neighborhood friend after putting away his things. At 15, Kristin was in high school and a normal teenage girl. Their father, 37-year-old Steven Moss, had the day off. So he had lunch in Macon with his wife — who found her family dead when she got home from work. 

John Conner (July 15)

Final statement: None.  

Victim: J.T. White was 29 when murdered. White, Conner and Conner’s girlfriend, Beverly Bates, had been to a party in Eastman, where they drank and smoked marijuana. Witnesses said there was no tension between the men. But that changed later when White told Conner he wanted to have sex with Bates. 

Gregory Lawler (Oct. 19)

Photo: AP

Final words: None.  

Victim: Atlanta police officer John "Rick" Sowa was 28 when he and his partner, Pat Cocciolone, walked an intoxicated woman to her front door and were shot. Cocciolone was critically wounded but was able to call for help as Sowa lay dead. The nightmare began when Sowa and Cocciolone were dispatched to investigate a report of a man hitting a woman. They found Lawler and his drunk girlfriend, Donna Rogers, behind a Midtown Atlanta store. Since Lawler had left the scene to walk home, Sowa and Cocciolone decided to drive Rogers to the apartment she shared with Lawler rather than arrest her. Within moments of speaking to Lawler at the apartment door, the officers were running for their lives as Lawler fired at them with a high-powered rifle loaded with armor-piercing bullets. Cocciolone survived but is disabled. 

Steven Spears (Nov. 16)

Final words: None  

Victim: Sherri Holland was a 34-year-old single mother and a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector who worked at a ConAgra Food plant, which is where she met Spears. She and Spears dated about three years, even though he threatened her and her family. Relatives said she stayed in the relationship because she was trying to protect them from Spears. On the weekend she was murdered, Holland was scheduled to go on her first date in almost a year since she and Spears broke up.  

William Sallie (Dec. 6)

Final words: "I am very, very sorry for my crime. I really am sorry. Man is going to take my life tonight, but God saved my soul. I've prayed about this. I do ask for forgiveness."

Victim: John Moore was asleep when his son-in-law burst into his bedroom, flicking on the lights and firing a 9-mm handgun. Moore got out of bed, collapsed onto the floor and died. When Sallie dragged his estranged wife and her sister from the house, he left his 2-year-old son in the bedroom with his dead grandfather. Moore’s wounded wife Linda and their 9-year-old son Justin, who had been handcuffed, freed themselves after a few hours and ran to a neighbor’s house to call police.

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