Georgia Supreme Court halts Carlton Gary's execution

The Georgia Supreme Court on Wednesday halted the execution of the so-called Columbus stocking strangler, ordering a judge to  consider Carlton Gary's request for DNA testing. The 5-2 ruling came four hours before Gary was to be executed by lethal injection.

"We are gratified the Supreme Court saw what we always saw -- how could you execute someone if there is DNA that can tell us whether he is in fact guilty?" Jack Martin, Gary's attorney, said. "It would have been a sin to execute him without conducting a test."

Gary, 59, was convicted in 1986 and sentenced to death for raping three women -- Martha Thurmond, 69; Florence Scheible, 89; and Kathleen Woodruff, 74 -- and then strangling them with their stockings.

Prosecutors said Gary sexually assaulted and attacked four other women during an eight-month period in 1977 and 1978. The attacks terrified residents of the Wynnton neighborhood of Columbus.

Fingerprint evidence placed Gary at the homes of three of the victims. Gary did not deny being at the scenes, but said an accomplice sexually assaulted and attacked the women.

At the time of Gary's trial, DNA testing was unavailable.

In a motion filed last week, Martin asked Muscogee County Superior Court Judge Robert Johnston to allow tests of semen found at the crime scenes to see whether it matches Gary's DNA. In the motion, Martin contended that Gary's conviction was obtained partly on unreliable and unchallenged forensic evidence. But Johnston rejected the request, saying the motion was filed "for the purposes of delay."

On Wednesday, the Georgia Supreme Court found that the motion complied with the requirements of a 2003 state law that allows requests for DNA testing had DNA tests been unavailable at the time of trial. The court ordered Johnston to hold a hearing to consider the request. Chief Justice Carol Hunstein and Justice George Carley dissented.