Friends and relatives of death row inmate John Wayne Conner gather Thursday evening, July 14, 2016, outside the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, where the execution chamber is located. (Rhonda Cook/rcook@ajc.com)

Georgia executes John Wayne Conner for 1982 murder

Conner was put to death at 12:29 a.m. Friday — 34 years and one day after he was convicted in Telfair County. He is the sixth murderer executed in Georgia this yeara record for the four decades the current death penalty law has been in place.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay shortly before midnight, clearing the way for the lethal injection of pentobarbital. The punishment had been scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, but the appeals process was still playing out.

Conner ate his last meal of fried fish, hush puppies and two deluxe hamburgers after spending several hours earlier in the day with three relatives, three friends, two members of the clergy and four from his legal team. At 3 p.m. he was given a physical and then his wait began.

A federal court rejected an appeal from Conner’s legal team Thursday afternoon. The Georgia Supreme Court said no to mercy Thursday morning, and the State Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency on Wednesday.

Conner, then 25, and White, 29, had spent the evening of Jan. 9, 1982, at a party but wanted to keep drinking once they returned to Conner’s house in Milan.

They walked to a neighbor’s house in search of a ride to the liquor store, but the neighbor refused.

Walking back to Conner’s house, the two got into a fight because White said he wanted to have sex with Conner’s girlfriend, Beverly Bates. Conner beat White with a quart bottle and an oak tree branch.

Conner quickly went home to get Bates so they could leave town. Planning to go to Gainesville, Conner and Bates stopped at the ditch where he had left White just to make sure he was dead. Conner beat him with a tree limb and then stabbed him with a stick.

Conner and Bates were arrested the next day in Butts County.

Conner’s lawyers told the Parole Board and wrote in appeals to the court that Conner had learned to be violent from his father. Based on that they asked for mercy, arguing that evidence about his upbringing was not presented to the jury that sentenced him to death. They said Conner grew up in a household where there were stabbings, shootings, alcohol and drug use, and some sexual abuse. In the years since, they said, he has done well in prison and is reformed.

District Attorney Timothy Vaughn, the head prosecutor in Telfair County, reminded the board, however, that Conner had killed three people in 10 years, though he was sentenced to die for only one of them. At 15, Conner was convicted of manslaughter for fatally shooting another teenager, Randy Smith. Conner also was convicted of murdering another friend just months before he killed White; he was sentenced to life in prison for killing Jesse Smyth.

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