Brandon Astor Jones says death sentence disproportionate for crime

Attorneys for Brandon Astor Jones asked a court to stop his execution set for Tuesday because his death sentence is excessive given the crimes he committed.

At the same time on Thursday, Jones lost in federal appeals court as he scrambled to stop the lethal injection set for next week for the 1979 murder of a Cobb County convenience store manager.

Jones is the oldest person on Georgia’s Death Row. If he is put to death as planned, he will also be the oldest person the state has ever executed as he will be 11 days from his 73rd birthday.

Jones was sentenced to die for for robbing and murdering Roger Tackett, who had stayed after closing at the Tenneco convenience store and gas station to finish paperwork. Jones and co-defendant Van Roosevelt Solomon were convicted of shooting Tackett five times. They were immediately arrested because a Cobb County police officer had just pulled up with a stranded motorist who wanted to use a pay phone at the business.

One reason Jones’ case has survived almost 37 years is a federal court in 1989 ordered him re-sentenced because jurors had a Bible in the room while they deliberated his punishment. Solomon was electrocuted in 1985.

In a filing in the Superior Court in Butts County, where the prison that houses Death Row is located, Jones’ lawyers argued it’s rare for a murderer to be sentenced to die if the crime that made the case eligible for the death sentence was armed robbery. A death sentence can be given only is certain circumstances such as when certain felonies were committed at the same time as the murder, if he crime was exceptionally horrendous or if a law enforcement officer was killed.

His lawyers wrote that Jones’ execution would be “unconstitutionally disproportionate and excessive” because “in Georgia today” his crime would not be considered the worst of the worst and deserving of capital punishment.

“Even at the time of Mr. Jones’ original sentence in 1979, a death sentence for a murder that occurred in those circumstances was an anomaly,” his lawyers wrote.

“Since the time of Mr. Jones’ crime, a death sentence for a murder that occurs in the context of a place-of-business armed robbery has fallen into complete extinction,” they wrote. “A death penalty has not been imposed in Georgia for a murder committed during an armed robbery in the last 20 years.”

Not long after his lawyers filed in the state court, he lost before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Jones wanted to challenge the effectiveness of his lawyers during his re-sentencing in 1997, claiming those attorneys did not tell the jury about his abusive childhood or other details from his life that might have swayed the jury to choose for life instead of death.

On Thursday, the 11th Circuit declined to re-open Jones’ claims that his trial lawyers provided him ineffective counsel during the mitigation phase of his capital trial.

Judge Stanley Marcus wrote for the majority that Jones “has offered no new arguments to reconsider the soundness of that decision.”

Jones’ lawyers also have asked that all 11 judges on the court of appeals consider the constitutionality of Georgia’s lethal injection secrecy law. So far, on three-judge panels have decided when it has been raised by other condemned murderers. The three-judge panel said in Thursday’s 28-page ruling the court would address that request in a separate order.

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