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He never looked at the father and brother of his victim, sitting on just the other side of the window that separates the witness area from the execution chamber. Nor did he look at Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee or Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, who was chief deputy in Baldwin County at the time of the murder.
Two minutes after the pentobarbital began to flow into the vein in his arm, Butts mumbled, “It burns, man.” After that, he yawned and took a series of deep breaths until there was no movement about a minute before he was pronounced dead.
Butts, 40, was sentenced to death for the March 1996 murder of 25-year-old Donovan Corey Parks in Milledgeville. Butts and his co-defendant, Marion Wilson Jr., asked Parks — an off-duty correctional officer — for a ride from a local Walmart store, then minutes later ordered him from the car and shot him in the head. Butts was 18 at the time.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Butts’ request for a stay of execution about 45 minutes prior to him getting the needle.
That followed the Georgia Supreme Court’s unanimous decision Friday afternoon to deny a stay of execution.
Although the lethal injection was scheduled for 7 p.m., Georgia does not proceed until all courts have weighed in on last-minute appeals for mercy.
In addition to denying Butts’ motion for a stay of execution, the Georgia Supreme Court denied his request to appeal rulings by the Butts County Superior Court and the Baldwin County Superior Court, which both issued an order denying a stay and rejecting Butts’ challenge to his death sentence.
Butts spent his final hours with two relatives as the courts weighed his lawyers' last-minute appeals, and he ate his last meal — a hamburger with bacon and two kinds of cheese, a rib-eye steak, chicken tenders, seasoned french fries, cheesecake and strawberry lemonade.
Nearby, on death row, Butts' partner in the murder sat in a cell. The day after Butts' execution warrant was signed on April 16, the U.S. Supreme Court returned Marion "Murdock" Wilson's case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, telling the judges in Atlanta to take another look.
And in another part of the prison, the father and brother of Butts’ victim waited for an end to their emotional roller coaster, which had run parallel to Butts’ over the past three days.
Wednesday night, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles granted Butts a 90-day stay of execution so the parole board’s five members could have more time to review a “considerable amount of additional information” about the case.
That stay halted the lethal injection set for 7 p.m. Thursday. Then the parole board lifted the stay Thursday afternoon and Butts’ execution was rescheduled for Friday night.
Marion Wilson (left) and Robert Earl Butts Jr.
Parks’ brother, Christopher, wrote to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to express his despair:
"I have suffered along with my father, Freddie L. Parks, for 22 years since Donovan was brutally murdered," Christopher Parks wrote in an email Thursday. "I spoke at the clemency hearing yesterday, only to receive word that a stay of execution for up to 90 days has been ordered by the parole board. Needless to say, I was distraught and frustrated and so is my dad. We feel as victimized by the system as we were by the offenders."
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Butts is the second man Georgia has put to death this year.
Butts' lawyers asked the parole board to consider his troubled childhood, caused primarily by a mother who was an alcoholic and a drug user who frequently brought different men home. They also argued before the courts and the board that Wilson, not Butts, actually pulled the trigger on the sawed-off shotgun that blasted a hole into the back of Parks' head. And they argued that if Butts were tried today for the same crime, he most likely would not get a death sentence because of evolving attitudes.
Butts and Wilson encountered Donovan Corey Parks at a local Walmart the night of March 28, 1996.
Prosecutors — who contend that the two were members of the FOLK Nation gang in Milledgeville — said Butts and Wilson were at the store “shopping for a victim.”
Parks, a Jehovah’s Witness, had just left Bible study at the Freedom Hall across the street from the house he shared with his father, and went to the Walmart to buy cat food, soap and cocoa.
As Parks checked out, Butts got in line behind him with a 20-cent pack of gum.
Parks and Butts knew each other from when they both worked at Burger King, so Butts asked Parks for a ride for himself and his friend.
Witnesses saw Butts get into the passenger front seat of Parks’ 1992 Acura, and Wilson get into the back. Prosecutors said Butts was wearing a black jacket that concealed a sawed-off shotgun.
Sixteen minutes later, Parks was walked to the rear of his car, where he was shot in the back of the head.
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According to trial testimony, Butts and Wilson drove off, planning to sell the Acura for parts in Atlanta. Hours later, the plan unsuccessful, the two returned to Middle Georgia, where they doused the car with gasoline and set it on fire behind a Macon Huddle House.
Butts and Wilson were arrested four days later. Law enforcement had surveillance video from places where the two had stopped after the murder. They found the sawed-off shotgun under the mattress on Wilson’s bed. According to prosecutors, Wilson claimed he was a FOLK Nation “enforcer,” and the walls of Butts’ bedroom were covered in FOLK Nation gang graffiti.
“That night, they extinguished the life of a young man whose life was full of promise; a young man who was sensitive, caring, and compassionate,” Christopher Parks wrote, describing his brother’s decision to help the two by giving them a ride.