Death penalty opponents gather to pray after hearing that Joshua Bishop's appeal had been denied by the Supreme Court outside of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison Thursday evening, March 31, 2016. Ben Gray / bgray@ajc.com
Photo: Ben Gray
Photo: Ben Gray

Georgia executes inmate for 1994 murder

Georgia executed Joshua Daniel Bishop by lethal injection Thursday night for the 1994 Baldwin County murder of Leverett Morrison.

Bishop, 41, was put to death at 9:27 p.m. at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center in Butts County shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay of execution.

He is the third killer Georgia has executed this year, and the state is preparing for yet another lethal injection in less than two weeks.

Bishop’s final words were to apologize. “I apologize to the people of Baldwin County and to the Morrison family,” he said, his voice barely audible. “I’d also like to thank all the people who stood by me.”

After the warden left the execution chamber, Bishop looked at Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee and Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, and nodded in acknowledgement.

One of his lawyers watched him die from the second row, and she nodded when he mouthed, “I love you.”

Bishop then started to recite “The Lord’s Prayer,” only getting as far as “Our Father” before drifting off.

After the execution, about 30 protesters surrounded a pastor and one of Bishop’s lawyers to hear details of the process.

Then they hugged one another, and some cried.

A possible reprieve from the nation’s highest court was all Bishop had left after the Georgia Supreme Court and the State Board of Pardons and Paroles denied his clemency pleas earlier Thursday.

He was scheduled to die at 7 p.m. But that hour came and went, as is the norm with death penalty cases while the appeals process plays out.

During his final evening of life, Bishop ate all of his last meal: a barbecue sandwich, Brunswick stew, potato chips, coleslaw, lemonade and purple candy. He also received 13 visitors — a mixture of friends, clergy and legal reps — and recorded a final statement.

Bishop didn’t deny he killed Morrison — hitting him with a car battery, then beating him with a curtain rod — during a fight over car keys.

Bishop was 19 at the time, and his co-defendant, Mark Braxley, was 36.

Bishop confessed that he and Braxley also killed another man — Ricky Lee Wills — two weeks before Morrison’s death, a murder that was unknown to police until the two men told them where they had buried Wills on June 9, 1994.

The men said they killed Wills because he’d had sexual contact with Bishop’s mother two weeks earlier.

Despite his confession, Bishop wanted a trial. He was ultimately convicted and condemned.

The Makings Of A Killer

Bishop’s lawyers argued that his death sentence was unfair because Braxley received a life sentence with the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to murdering Morrison.

Bishop’s lawyers had also hoped he would be spared once authorities knew the details of his childhood.

Bishop didn’t know his father’s name. His mother, a prostitute and drug addict, said it could be one of three men, including Morrison’s brother.

Bishop had his first drink before he entered the first grade, and by the time he was 12 he was sniffing gasoline and other chemicals. As a teenager, he would join his mother, who was often homeless, to smoke crack.

Car Keys Lead To Murder

According to court records and trial testimony, on June 25, 1994, Bishop, Braxley and Morrison spent much of the day drinking at a Milledgeville bar before moving their party to Braxley’s trailer so they could smoke crack.

Morrison had been asleep when Bishop tried to fish Morrison’s car keys out of his pocket, awakening him.

After beating Morrison to death, Braxley and Bishop tried to hoist his body into a dumpster. They eventually gave up and left Morrison’s body between two trash bins, where it was found a few hours later.

Bishop and Braxley drove Morrison’s car into the woods and set it on fire, returned to Braxley’s trailer to clean up the crime scene, and then went back to the bar.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X