Death penalty opponents gather at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison in Jackson to protest Marcus Ray Johnson's execution on Thursday,  November 19, 2015. Johnson was convicted for the 1994 murder of a woman he met in an Albany bar. Ben Gray /
Photo: Ben Gray
Photo: Ben Gray

Georgia executes Marcus Ray Johnson for 1994 murder

Johnson’s execution is the fourth in Georgia this year and is expected to be quickly followed by six more over the next few weeks and months as issues around the lethal injection drug have been resolved and an aging death row population exhausts all appeals.

Johnson was pronounced dead at 10:11 p.m.

Unlike others put to death, he had no final statement, he did not look at any of the witnesses, and he said no when asked if he would like a prayer.

Sizemore’s now 26-year-old daughter, Kathryn Barker, watched Johnson draw his last breath as she sat with former Dougherty County district attorney Ken Hodges, who kept a protective arm around her. Barker was in kindergarten when her mother was murdered.

The execution lasted 27 minutes, an unusually long time for a Georgia execution. Two of Johnson’s friends were in attendance.

On Thursday, until about 3 p.m., Johnson met with three paralegals, an attorney, two investigators, one friend and five family members. He didn’t eat his dinner, and he declined to make a recorded final statement.

Johnson was the fourth person Georgia has put to death this year and the 36th to die since the state started using lethal injection.

Johnson’s lethal injection moved forward after the state Board of Pardons and Paroles declined to show him mercy Wednesday, and as court after court — including the U.S. Supreme Court late Thursday — rejected his last-minute appeals.

The brutality of Sizemore’s murder is a fresh memory for the former Dougherty County district attorney who argued before a jury that Johnson should die.

“He raped her. He mutilated her body and he killed her. About that I have no doubt,” Hodges said last week when he learned Johnson’s lawyers were arguing before the state Parole Board that he didn’t do it.

Johnson agreed with some the prosecutor’s version of what happened in the hours after midnight on March 24, 1994. But he said he couldn’t remember much of what happened after he and Sizemore had sex because he had consumed so much alcohol.

He met Sizemore at the Fundamentals bar in Albany. She had been drinking for a while before she walked in, having gone to a funeral, out for dinner with friends, and then to one other bar before going to Fundamentals.

Johnson was shooting pool.

He told police they danced, drank more tequila and sat in a back booth kissing before going down the street to a field where they had “consensual” sex.

Johnson told police he left her alive, sitting in the field and crying after he punched her in the nose because she insisted on cuddling. Johnson also claimed he remembered little else until he woke up in his front yard when the sun came up.

A man walking his dog around 8 a.m. on March 24, 1994, discovered Sizemore’s body in her SUV, across town from the bar and parked behind an apartment complex.

She had been stabbed 41 times with a small, dull knife; six times to her heart. She had bruises and marks from being hit and dragged. A medical examiner testified at Johnson’s trial that Sizemore was still alive when she was sodomized with a pecan tree branch.

Four witnesses testified they saw Johnson just before Sizemore’s body was discovered. He was either in the area where Sizemore’s Suburban was found or he got on a city bus at a stop in that neighborhood.

Johnson’s lawyer argued in his clemency petition and in last-minute filings that those witnesses were unreliable. Either they identified Johnson months after the highly publicized crime or they left out key details when they described him.

Johnson came within hours of being put to death in 2011 when a Dougherty County judge stopped the execution to allow time to analyze evidence that had just been discovered in a box at police headquarters. The additional testing did not clear Johnson but instead incriminated him more, Dougherty County Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette wrote in April when he dismissed Johnson’s request for a new trial.

Johnson’s lawyers also wrote in last-minute filings that Sizemore’s husband owed money to drug dealers in Florida and that she sold marijuana. They said either of those circumstances could have led to her murder. At the time, Richard Barker, Sizemore’s common-law husband, was being held on federal charges that he smuggled drugs and immigrants. Barker is serving a life sentence at the federal prison in Atlanta.

The suggestion that Sizemore might have cause her own death angered her daughter.

“My mama was a good person,” she said. “I do believe my mom deserves some justice.”

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