District Attorney Layla Zon of the Alcovy Judicial Circuit, consisting of Newton and Walton Counties. (Bob Andres / AJC 2013 file photo)
Photo: BOB ANDRES/AJC
Photo: BOB ANDRES/AJC

District attorney draws heat over toy electric chair

“Death Row Marv” is a battery-powered toy electric chair that produces an electric buzzing sound with Marv’s eyes glowing red under a helmet attached to electrodes. After his “electrocution,” Marv asks, “That the best you can do, you pansies?”

Because the toy was on display in District Attorney Layla Zon’s office, it now figures prominently in a recently filed court motion that seeks to overturn a Newton County death sentence.

The motion contends Zon is “pathologically enthralled” with the death penalty and has pursued it with a fervor and zeal unmatched by any other district attorney in the state. Zon is DA of the Alcovy Judicial Circuit, which consists of Walton and Newton counties.

On Wednesday, Zon said she seeks the death penalty only in cases that warrant it. As for “Death Row Marv,” it was already in her office when she became district attorney in 2010 and she recently removed it.

“It was not something I purchased to decorate my office,” she said. “It was a left-behind trinket that became part of the woodwork. … I never sat and looked and fixated on it, like it was part of some medieval mindset.”

Marv was a fictional character created by comic book legend Frank Miller for the “Sin City” graphic novel series. Actor Mickey Rourke portrayed Marv in a 2005 movie adaptation. In “The Hard Goodbye,” Marv is sentenced to die in the electric chair and survives the first jolt — prompting the “you pansies” retort. His executioners then pull the switch again to finish the job.

The toy did not define her philosophy on capital punishment, Zon said. “But when the evidence and the law are not on their side, they launch ad hominem attacks.”

State capital defender Josh Moore, who filed the motion on behalf of condemned inmate Rodney Young, declined to comment. In 2012, Young was condemned to die by lethal injection for killing his ex-fiancée’s son.

An estimated 1,400 murder cases that were eligible for the death penalty have been closed statewide since Zon took office and fewer than 1 percent of them resulted in death sentences, the motion said. Young’s case was “considerably less aggravated” than the other death cases, the motion said, but his crime occurred in Newton County, where Zon turned down his offer to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Since 2011, there have been 13 death-penalty trials statewide and four of them took place in Newton County, the motion said. During that same time frame, Georgia juries imposed five death sentences and two of them came from Newton.

“These statistics resoundingly confirm what Ms. Zon’s toy electric chair perhaps only suggests: that her fixation with the death penalty is completely out of step with the sensibilities and evolving standards of decency in this state,” the motion said.

The motion notes that the Georgia Supreme Court in 2001 found that death by electrocution caused excruciating pain with a certainty of “cooked brains and blistered bodies.”

“The idea of any elected state official memorializing such a barbaric (and unconstitutional) practice with an office ornament would be surprising and troubling,” the motion said. “The fact that the elected official at issue here is a constitutional officer entrusted with virtually unfettered discretion in deciding which defendants under her jurisdiction will be singled out for execution, and which will be spared, is cause for real concern.”

Zon said she now wishes she had “trashed” the toy when she first saw it.

As for the two death sentences she obtained, Zon said, jurors from both trials unanimously agreed the ultimate punishment was necessary. And the case involving Young was particularly heinous, she said.

Young killed Gary Lamar Jones because his mother had ended her relationship with Young, Zon said. On a Sunday in March 2008, Jones returned home from church and was overtaken by Young, who tied him to a chair.

Young bludgeoned Jones with a hammer, sliced open his throat with a knife and beat him so viciously he was found dead with an eyeball hanging out of his face, Zon said. “I think if confronted with those same facts, DAs in other counties would have sought death too.”

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