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Ga Supreme Court Won’t Hear Appeal of Death Row Inmate

The Georgia Supreme court said last week that it will not consider the appeal filed by death row inmate Ray Cromartie’s legal team, which cites additional evidence that could clear Cromartie the claim that he pulled the trigger in a 1994 armed robbery.

The Georgia Supreme court said last week that it will not consider the appeal filed by death row inmate Ray Cromartie’s legal team, which cites additional evidence that could clear Cromartie the claim that he pulled the trigger in a 1994 armed robbery.

Ray Jefferson Cromartie was sentenced to death in 1997 for the murder of Richard Slysz. Slyz was a store clerk and was shot twice in the head during a robbery. Cromartie and his accomplice were both charged, but only Cromartie was charged with murder. His accomplice testified for the state, served time for a lesser sentence, and is already out of prison, while Cromartie rolled the dice at trial. Cromartie has maintained for the last 22 years that he did not pull the trigger. The accomplice, however, has been unable to be located since 2015.

In a press release in October, the Attorney General’s Office claimed the appeal’s process was complete, but at multiple points during the appeals process, the defense has contended that a witness from the initial trial has admitted to perjury and that forensic DNA testing not available in 1997 would show Cromartie was not the one who pulled the trigger. [The defense says clothing and ammunition could be tested]. Superior Court Judge Frank Horkan, who sentenced Cromartie to death in 1997, is the same judge who recently denied opportunities to consider the new evidence.

Cromartie was previously set to be executed on October 30th but was granted a stay eight hours before his scheduled lethal injection over concerns with the procedural process. During that time, Cromartie’s legal team also made additional pleas to the Georgia Board of Pardons & Parole, the Georgia Supreme Court, and the Georgia Attorney General’s Office to consider the DNA evidence. All were denied.

Most notably, Richard Slysz’s daughter has pleaded with both the Attorney General’s Office and the Georgia Board of Pardons & Parole to conduct the forensic DNA testing before executing Cromartie in the name of justice for her father.

Last week, the Georgia Supreme Court said the ineffective counsel arguments Cromartie made in a second appeal – in which he claimed that had other evidence been presented at trial, he may have been sentenced differently – were denied. The high court also said it will not grant a stay to the execution set for Wednesday.

No other interventions in the process remain. Unlike many other states, in Georgia, the state Constitution permits only the Georgia Board of Pardons & Paroles to commute a death sentence to life in prison.

Cromartie is set to be executed on Wednesday, November 13, 2019. The state claims it uses the sedative pentobarbital to put people to death by lethal injection, but provisions in the Georgia Open Records Act shield the public from confirming that information.

You can read the background of the case as provided by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office below.

Cromartie’s Crime (1994)

The Georgia Supreme Court summarized the facts of the case as follows:

The evidence adduced at trial shows that Cromartie borrowed a .25 caliber pistol from his cousin Gary Young on April 7, 1994. At about 10:15 p.m. on April 7, Cromartie entered the Madison Street Deli in Thomasville and shot the clerk, Dan Wilson, in the face. Cromartie left after unsuccessfully trying to open the cash register. The tape from the store video camera, while too indistinct to conclusively identify Cromartie, captured a man fitting Cromartie’s general description enter the store and walk behind the counter toward the area where the clerk was washing pans. There is the sound of a shot and the man leaves after trying to open the cash register. Wilson survived despite a severed carotid artery. The following day, Cromartie asked Gary Young and Carnell Cooksey if they saw the news. He told Young that he shot the clerk at the Madison Street Deli while he was in the back washing dishes. Cromartie also asked Cooksey if he was “down with the 187,” which Cooksey testified meant robbery. Cromartie stated that there was a Junior Food Store with “one clerk in the store and they didn’t have no camera.”

In the early morning hours of April 10, 1994, Cromartie and Corey Clark asked Thaddeus Lucas if he would drive them to the store so they could steal beer. As they were driving, Cromartie directed Lucas to bypass the closest open store and drive to the Junior Food Store. He told Lucas to park on a nearby street and wait. When Cromartie and Clark entered the store, Cromartie shot clerk Richard Slysz twice in the head. The first shot which entered below Slysz’s right eye would not have caused Slysz to immediately lose consciousness before he was hit by Cromartie’s second shot directed at Slysz’s left temple. Although Slysz died shortly thereafter, neither wound caused an immediate death. Cromartie and Clark then tried to open the cash register but were unsuccessful. Cromartie instead grabbed two 12-packs of Budweiser beer and the men fled. A convenience store clerk across the street heard the shots and observed two men fitting the general description of Cromartie and Clark run from the store; Cromartie was carrying the beer. While the men were fleeing one of the 12-packs broke open and spilled beer cans onto the ground. A passing motorist saw the two men run from the store and appear to drop something.

Cooksey testified that when Cromartie and his accomplices returned to the Cherokee Apartments they had a muddy case of Budweiser beer and Cromartie boasted about shooting the clerk twice. Plaster casts of shoe prints in the muddy field next to the spilled cans of beer were similar to the shoes Cromartie was wearing when he was arrested three days later. Cromartie’s left thumb print was found on a torn piece of Budweiser 12-pack carton near the shoe prints. The police recovered the .25 caliber pistol that Cromartie had borrowed from Gary Young, and a firearms expert determined that this gun fired the bullets that wounded Wilson and killed Slysz. Cromartie’s accomplices, Lucas and Clark, testified for the State at Cromartie’s trial.

Cromartie v. State, 270 Ga. 780, 781-782 (1999).

Trial (1994-1997)

Cromartie was indicted in the Superior Court of Thomas County, Georgia for one count of malice murder, one count of aggravated assault, one count of aggravated battery, one count of armed robbery and four counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. Cromartie was convicted as charged in the indictment and sentenced to death on October 1, 1997.

Direct Appeal (1999-2000)

Cromartie’s case was appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.  The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Cromartie’s convictions and death sentences on March 8, 1999.  Cromartie v. State, 270 Ga. 780 (1999).  The United States Supreme Court denied Cromartie’s request to appeal on November 1, 1999.  Cromartie v. Georgia, 528 U.S. 974 (1999), rehearing deniedCromartie v. Georgia, 528 U.S. 1108 (2000).

State Habeas Corpus Proceedings (2000-2014)

Cromartie filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Superior Court of Butts County, Georgia on May 9, 2000.  An evidentiary hearing was held on August 12-14, 2008.  On February 9, 2012, the state habeas corpus court entered an order denying Cromartie state habeas relief.  Cromartie filed a motion for reconsideration based upon new testimony from trial witness Gary Young, which the state habeas corpus court ultimately denied on October 9, 2012.  The Georgia Supreme Court denied Cromartie’s appeal on September 9, 2013.  Thereafter, the United States Supreme Court denied Cromartie’s request to appeal on April 21, 2014.  Cromartie v. Chatman, 572 U.S. 1064 (2014).

Federal Habeas Corpus Proceedings (2014-2018)

Cromartie filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia on March 20, 2014.  On March 31, 2017, the district court denied Cromartie federal habeas relief.  Thereafter, Cromartie filed a request to appeal in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which was denied on January 3, 2018.  Cromartie filed a motion for reconsideration in the Eleventh Circuit, which was denied March 26, 2018.  The United States Supreme Court denied Cromartie’s request to appeal on December 3, 2018.  Cromartie v. Sellers, 139 S. Ct. 594 (2018).

Extraordinary Motion for New Trial (2018-2019)

On December 27, 2018, after twenty-one years in prison, Cromartie sought post-conviction DNA testing pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 5-5-41.  On September 16, 2019, following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied Cromartie’s extraordinary motion for new trial.

Jessica Szilagyi is a former Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com.

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