The State of Georgia executed death row inmate Ray Jefferson Cromartie late Wednesday night after the nation’s high court denied his 11th hour request for a stay in order to conduct forensic DNA testing.
Cromartie was set to be executed at 7:00 p.m., but the lethal injection was delayed because the state had not yet heard a ruling from the U.S Supreme Court. Around 10:45 p.m., the writ of certiorari was denied and the process was started. Earlier Wednesday, a federal appeals court also had refused to intervene.
The Attorney General’s Office issued a press release at 11:03 p.m. stating the execution was carried out at 10:59 p.m. Cromartie did not issue a final statement. He maintained his innocence for the 22 years he was in prison awaiting the execution.
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Cromartie was sentenced to death in 1997 for the 1994 murder of Richard Slysz. Slysz was a store clerk and was shot twice in the head during a robbery. Cromartie and his supposed 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 an unusual turn of events for death penalty cases, the daughter of the victim of the 1994 murder had been advocating on behalf of Cromartie and penned letters to a number of state officials asking that the DNA testing be conducted.
Elizabeth Legette, Slysz’s daughter, said in her most recent statement:
“I understand that I have certain rights as a victim under both the Georgia Constitution and statutes, most notably, the right “to be treated with fairness, dignity, and respect,” and the right “to be heard at any proceedings involving … [the] sentencing of the accused.” In the course of the past few months, I have not been treated with fairness, dignity, or respect, and people in power have refused to listen to what I had to say. I believe this was, in part, because I was not saying what I was expected to say as a victim. This leads me to the conclusion that victim’s rights extend only to those who support what the State apparently wants most in death penalty cases – the execution of the offender or alleged offender.”
You can read her full letter here. Legette’s letter to the Georgia Supreme Court is available here and her letter to the District Attorney who prosecuted the case and the Georgia Attorney General is available here.
The defense contended that forensic DNA testing not available at the time of the trial would evaluate DNA samples of clothing evidence from the night of the murder and would have determined whether or not Cromartie pulled the trigger. They held it would have exonerated Cromartie.
Postconviction DNA testing has exonerated 367 innocent prisoners, including 21 from death row, but Cromartie’s attorney said Tuesday that “Georgia’s laws concerning postconviction DNA testing “make it virtually impossible for a prisoner to find the only “right” time to seek DNA testing.”