Murderer Joshua Bishop moves closer to execution

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles did not decide Wednesday whether to deny or honor Joshua Bishop’s plea that he be spared the lethal injection scheduled for Thursday evening.

The board announced it was delaying its decision just 25 hours before Bishop is scheduled to be executed for the 1994 Baldwin County murder of Leverette Morrison.

The board’s options are to commute Bishop’s sentence to life without parole, deny clemency or approve a 90-day stay so it could have more time to consider the arguments from both sides.

Bishop’s other remaining hope lies with the courts.

If Bishop is executed, he will be the third person Georgia has put to death by lethal injection this year. Another murderer, Kenneth Fults, is scheduled to be executed April 12 for the 1996 murder of his 19-year-old neighbor in Griffin.

The five Parole Board members wanted to weigh overnight the arguments made by the condemned man’s advocates Wednesday morning against what they heard in the afternoon from two prosecutors and two sheriffs who secured a death sentence for Morrison’s murder.

Bishop’s lawyers asked the Parole Board to show mercy because of his difficult childhood and because his sentence was more severe than the life sentence given his co-defendant, Mark Braxley. They said Braxley was the instigator in Morrison’s murder and that of another man two weeks earlier.

Stephen Bradley, the district attorney in Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit which includes Baldwin County, and two sheriffs involved with the Bishop Case in 1994 were outraged at the suggestion that Bishop, then 19, was a follower and that the murders were not his idea.

“This was started by Bishop,” said Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, who was with the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office 22 years ago.

Bishop, Morrison and Braxley had spent much of the day of June 25, 1994, drinking at a Milledgeville bar before moving to Braxley’s trailer where they smoked crack.

After the 35-year-old Morrison fell asleep, Bishop tried to get Morrison’s car keys from his pants pocket.

Bishop’s lawyers say Braxley wanted the Jeep so he could visit his girlfriend. Putnam County Sheriff Bill Massee said the two wanted the Jeep so they could go back to the bar.

Morrison woke as Bishop fished for the keys, so the two men hit Morrison with a car battery and then repeatedly beat him with a curtain rod. Once he was dead, they left Morrison’s body between two dumpsters, set fire to his Jeep and returned to Braxley’s trailer to clean up the crime scene.

Then they went back to the bar, Massee said.

Morrison’s body was discovered the next morning, and Bishop and Braxley were in custody by that evening. Authorities quickly focused on Bishop and Braxley because people at the bar that night told investigators they saw the two with Morrison and then later without him.

Bishop confessed to killing the 35-year-old Morrison but then he also told investigators about a murder they had not yet discovered. Bishop and Braxley both admitted they killed Ricky Lee Wills two weeks earlier because Wills had had sexual contact with Bishop’s mother. Sills said Wills had been recently discharged from Central State Hospital and he simply stayed in Milledgeville once he left Georgia’s largest facility for treating the mentally ill.

They buried Wills near Braxley’s trailer. His body was not discovered until Bishop and Braxley told investigators where to look.

Yet, even though he confessed to Morrison’s murder, Bishop still wanted a trial. He was convicted and sentenced to die.

Braxley, however, avoided a death sentence by pleading guilty. He is serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole.

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