Georgia schedules its second execution of the year

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)

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)

Robert Earl Butts, who was 18 when he and a partner murdered an off-duty Milledgeville prison guard, is scheduled to be executed May 3.

That would make him the second man to be put to death in Georgia this year.

An execution warrant for Butts, now 40, was signed Monday as his partner in the murder of Donovan Corey Parks waits on the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on his appeal, which was argued in Washington last fall.

In March, Carlton Gary, known as the Columbus "Stocking Strangler" and one of the state's most notorious serial killers, died by lethal injection.

ALSO: Pro-death penalty pastor ministers to condemned

RELATED: Georgia’s Death Row and the people they killed

AND: Secrets of the death penalty

According to testimony, Butts and Marion Wilson, also 18, were trying to carry out an obligation for the Folk Nation gang -- to carry out a violent act -- when Butts got in line behind Parks as he was buying cat food at a Walmart in Milledgeville.

Butts bought a pack of gum and followed the officer out of the store to his 1992 Acura Vigor, parked in the fire lane directly in front of the store.

They asked for a ride, and Parks agreed.

Witnesses saw Butts slide into the front passenger seat and Wilson get into the back.

Almost immediately, Butts pulled out a shotgun and told Parks to drive to a nearby residential area. That was where they shot Parks in the head and left him lying face down in the street.

The two then left in the Acura for Atlanta.

Security cameras caught images of Wilson and Butts putting gas into Parks’ car at a service station in nearby Gray. Once in Atlanta, they called Wilson’s cousin for help finding a chop shop that would take the stolen car. When that failed, they bought two gasoline cans at a convenience store in Atlanta and then drove to Macon, where they set the car on fire.

They were arrested when they got back to Milledgeville.

At Wilson’s house, police found a sawed-off shotgun loaded with the type of ammunition used to kill Parks. Wilson, who claimed to be the Folk Nation gang's "chief enforcer,” talked, and he put it all on Butts.

Wilson said Butts carried the shotgun with him into the store as he looked for a victim. Butts then ordered Parks out of the car and on his stomach, and he shot the correctional officer in the back of the head, Wilson said.

While preparing for trial, defense attorneys had interviewed Butts' mother, his siblings, grandmother, uncle, former employers, ex-girlfriends and others who were in the gang with him, but none of them were called to testify on his behalf.

In his appeals, Butts claimed his trial lawyers were ineffective because none of those people were called.

But, according to court records, Butts’ mother was a drunk and a drug user, and she only came to court once, the day he was sentenced.

His mother explained when she testified at a hearing for his appeal that she managed to "sober up" in time to attend only that one day of her son's trial.

His father was not a part of Butts' life, and investigators could not find him.

While Butts' appeals have so far failed at every level, Wilson's case is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. His lawyers argued before the high court in October on the arcane question of what prior state court ruling the federal appeals should evaluate when deciding the merits of a condemned inmate's case.

Five things to know about the Georgia death penalty