Parole board rejects Brandon Astor Jones’ clemency request

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles Monday night turned down Brandon Astor Jones’ request to commute his death sentence to life in prison just moments after he also lost in the federal appeals court.

Unless a court steps in today, the 72-year-old man will be put to death.

Jones’ attorneys spent three hours and 15 minutes with the Parole Board this morning. Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds, former District Attorney Tom Charron, who prosecuted Jones and his co-defendant in 1979, and murder victim Roger Tackett’s family met with the board for an hour in the afternoon.

The members do not discuss with each other the case when deciding whether to commute before they take a vote. It takes three votes to either sustain the death sentence or to commute it to life without parole.

“The death penalty is just punishment (in this case),” Reynolds said after the meeting.

Reynolds disagreed with Jones’ lawyers claims that Jones should be spared because of his age — Jones’ 73rd birthday is Valentine’s Day — and his increasing dementia. Reynolds said he had read Jones’ writings, many posted on the internet, and found nothing to suggest he was failing mentally.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday evening turned down his request for a stay. Jones had asked that his execution be delayed allow time for all 11 judges, not just a three-judge panel that usually decides, to hear his challenge to the Georgia law that keeps secret the name of the pharmacist who makes the pentobarbital that will be used to execute him. The appellate court said Jones could have raised that question a long time ago, instead of waiting until days before his scheduled execution.

Jones and Van Roosevelt Solomon were both convicted of murder and sentenced to die in separate trials just months after the Father’s Day murder almost 37 years ago. If Jones is executed as scheduled — 7 p.m. Tuesday — he will be the oldest man Georgia has ever executed.

Tackett, a former teacher, had locked up the store that he managed at midnight. But he stayed to complete paperwork so he could be free to attend Mass with his 7-year-old daughter and his wife.

Jones and Solomon were attempting to burglarize the store when they shot Tackett, 35.

But a Cobb County police officer was dropping off a stranded motorist so she could use the Tenneco pay phone when he heard the shots. Within moments, officer Roy Kendall had the two in custody, and then he found Tackett on the storeroom floor, dead in a pool of his own blood.

Solomon was electrocuted for Tackett’s murder on Feb. 2, 1985, but four years after that a federal judge ordered Jones’ a new trial because the jurors who had condemned him had, had a Bible in the room during deliberations.

In 1997, another Cobb County jury again sentenced Jones to die.

Jones lawyers and supporters declined to speak to reporters after the hearing as did Katie Tackett King, Tackett’s daughter, and Christine, Bixon, Tackett’s widow who married again several years after the murder.

But Charron and Reynolds took questions.

They said the only thing the board asked was which shot killed Tackett and how long did he linger after suffering the first of five wounds. Charron said Tackett was alive for some time because he aspirated blood. Charron also insisted that Tackett’s thumb was shot off almost tw0 hours before he died, a claim Jones’ lawyers have challenged in their filings. Jones lawyers say Tackett’s thumb was not shot off but was struck by a bullet that also struck him in the head.

It was never determined who fired the fatal shot to the back of his head. Jones and Solomon both had gunpowder residue on their hands and they blamed each other.

If Jones is executed, Charron said, “it will bring closure to this family and to me and to the justice system in Cobb County.”

While the Parole Board was hearing the Jones’ case, the 11th U.S. Circuit was still considering Jones’ challenge to the state’s secrecy law that protects the identity of the pharmacist who will make the pentobarbital that will be used to put him to death. The appellate court ruled last week that Jones could not revisit his claims that he had bad legal representation but they said they would comment in a later opinion on the issue around the state’s secrecy law.

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