Execution still set for oldest man on Georgia’s death row

Parole board turns down Brandon Astor Jones' clemency plea

Brandon Astor Jones' 37-year journey to Georgia's death chamber will end this evening unless a court receiving his last-day appeals stops the execution.

If Jones is put to death, he will be the first person Georgia has executed this year, the oldest man in Georgia to be executed, and the fifth-oldest man in the nation to be put to death. His lethal injection is scheduled for 11 days before his 73rd birthday.

Meanwhile, an execution warrant was signed Monday for another condemned killer. Travis Hitton is to be put to death between Feb. 17 and Feb. 24 for murdering and dismembering a fellow shipmate from the USS Forrestal, an aircraft carrier based in Pensacola, Fla. The crime took place in 1992 in Houston County, Ga.

On Monday, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles heard first from Jones’ attorneys and advocates and then from the man who prosecuted him, the sitting Cobb County district attorney, and the family of murder victim Roger Tackett.

Jones’ attorneys and some of his relatives pleaded with the Parole Board on Monday to show mercy. In their clemency petition, they noted that Jones has aged considerably in the years that have passed since Father’s Day morning in 1979, the day Tackett, the manager of a Cobb County convenience store and gas station, was shot to death around 1:45 a.m.

“Mr. Jones now suffers from dementia and has grown otherwise physically and mentally infirm(ed). … Mr. Jones’ long-term confinement has accelerated the aging process,” his lawyers wrote in his clemency petition, also claiming Jones is no longer dangerous.

They also told the board that a death sentence for this particular crime was disproportionate, that Jones is not "the worst of the worst."

Jones and Van Roosevelt Solomon broke into the Tenneco on Delk Road where Tackett had stayed after closing to do paperwork so he would be free to attend Mass later that morning with his 7-year-old daughter and his wife. A Cobb County police officer happened to be outside the store, having just dropped off a stranded motorist who needed to use the Tenneco's pay phone, when he heard shots from the storeroom.

Jones and Solomon were immediately arrested. Officer Roy Kendall found Tackett shot in the thumb, twice in the hip and twice in the head, lying in his own blood on the storeroom floor.

Solomon was electrocuted on Feb. 20, 1985, while Jones' appeal was pending. A federal judge ordered that Jones be resentenced in 1989 because the jury had a Bible in the room during deliberations. In 1997, a second Cobb County jury voted that Jones be executed for murdering Tackett.

Less than an hour after Jones’ supporters left the board on Monday, Tackett’s daughter, Katie Tackett King, and his widow, Christine Bixon, who remarried several years after the murder, spoke to the five members.

“The death penalty is justified punishment (in the Jones case),” said Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds. “This was a vicious murder.”

Former District Attorney Tom Charron, who prosecuted Jones and Solomon, said it was time that the execution be carried out.

“I’ve been living this with the Tacketts 36 years,” Charron said. “Three separate juries, one 18 years later, agreed it was (a) death penalty (case).

“It will bring closure for the family, to me and the criminal justice system in Cobb County,” Charron said.

They said the only thing the board asked was which shot killed Tackett and how long he lingered after suffering the first of five wounds. Charron said Tackett was alive for some time because he aspirated blood.

Charron also insisted that Tackett’s thumb was shot off almost two hours before he died, a claim Jones’ lawyers have challenged in their filings. Jones lawyers say Tackett’s thumb was not shot off but was struck by a bullet that also struck him in the head.

It was never determined who fired the fatal shot to the back of his head. Jones and Solomon both had gunpowder residue on their hands, and each blamed the other.

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