Not long after halting the scheduled execution of Georgia inmate Robert Earl Butts Jr., the State Board of Pardons and Paroles lifted its own stay, putting the death penalty wheels back in motion.
Butts is now scheduled to die by lethal injection Friday at 7 p.m. Before the parole board issued a stay Wednesday night, Butts was expected to get the needle Thursday evening for the 1996 murder of off-duty correctional officer Donovan Corey Parks.
“Oh Lord,” said Freddie Parks, the victim’s father. “I’m nervous. I’m really happy to hear the good news. I’ve been going through it 22 years. Nobody knows what I’ve been going through but me and the Lord. And I’ve been really talking to Him.”
Just hours earlier, Parks, a 75-year-old retired prison guard, was angry and despondent at the same time over the stay of execution. “It wasn’t fair the way it came out, putting it off. Another blow,” he said at the time.
When the board issued its 90-day stay Wednesday night, its spokesman said the five-member panel needed time to review the “considerable amount of additional information” it received in a meeting with Butts’ attorneys, as well as in a subsequent session with those who wanted to see the execution carried out.
“Knowing the gravity of its decisions, the board extended deliberations in order to consider supplemental information submitted during the meeting that members had not previously reviewed,” spokesman Steve Hayes said. “Completing that process, the board voted to deny clemency.”
While the parole board has the sole constitutional authority to grant clemency, the courts have the ultimate power to decide whether to spare an inmate's life. So Butts' attorneys continued to file appeals on Thursday.
If Butts, 40, is executed, he will be the second man Georgia has put to death this year.
Meanwhile, Butts' criminal accomplice, Marion "Murdock" Wilson, is challenging his own death sentence in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The day after Butts' execution warrant was signed on April 16, the U.S. Supreme Court sent Wilson's case back to the federal appeals court in Atlanta with instructions that the judges take another look at it.
The Butts stay was only the fifth that this parole board has issued. Three inmates whose punishments were postponed were eventually executed, while the board commuted Daniel Greene's death sentence to life without parole for murdering a former classmate in Taylor County in 1991.
According to testimony, Butts, 18 at the time, and Wilson were at a Milledgeville Walmart the evening of March 28, 1996, "shopping" for a victim, when they crossed paths with Parks, who had just left Bible study and was at the store to pick up cat food, soap and cocoa. Butts knew Parks because they both had worked at a local Burger King.
Butts asked Parks for a ride.
Witnesses said they saw Butts, wearing a black Colorado Rockies jacket, get in the front seat of the 1992 Acura and Wilson slide into the back.
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According to testimony, 16 minutes later on Felton Road, Parks was shot in the back of the head with a sawed-off shotgun. District Attorney Stephen Bradley said authorities don’t know who actually pulled the trigger, but said both men are murderers as parties to a crime.
Leaving Parks face-down in his own blood, Butts and Wilson drove off in the Acura, headed to Atlanta in hopes of selling the car for parts. When that plan failed, the two returned to Middle Georgia, where they set fire to the car behind a Macon Huddle House and called Butts’ uncle for a ride back to Milledgeville.
Both were arrested four days later.
Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office investigators found the sawed-off Mossberg 500 12-gauge shotgun under the mattress of Wilson’s bed. At Butts’ house, where he lived with his mother, investigators found “nomenclature” for the FOLK Nation gang on his bedroom walls and the FOLK “book of knowledge,” said Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, who was chief deputy in Baldwin County when Parks was killed.
Butts' lawyers, in their clemency petition and in a subsequent letter to the parole board, argue that Butts did not kill Parks. They say Wilson did.
"I know he did it," Freddie Parks said about suggestions that Butts is innocent. And Freddie Parks said he will witness the lethal injection of his son's killer.
Several years ago, Butts wrote to him, Freddie Parks said. He didn’t open the letter. “I burned it up,” he said.
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THE STORY SO FAR
Robert Earl Butts Jr. received the death penalty for the 1996 murder of 25-year-old Donovan Corey Parks.
Butts was supposed to die by lethal injection Thursday evening. But the State Board of Pardons and Paroles granted a stay of execution Wednesday night to consider additional information.
About 20 hours later, the parole board lifted the stay, and Butts is now scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Friday.