The death penalty-Georgia
An undated image provided by the Georgia Department of Corrections shows Virgil Presnell.

Georgia Department of Corrections through the AP

Atlanta – On Monday, a judge suspended the death sentence of a man from Georgia who was due to die on Tuesday for the murder of an 8-year-old girl 46 years ago.

68-year-old Virgil Delano Presnell Jr. killed a girl and raped her 10-year-old girlfriend after abducting them while they were leaving school in Cobb County, near Atlanta, on May 4, 1976. He had to die from the injection. a soothing pentabarbital at Jackson State Prison at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

But ruling from the bench at the end of Monday’s hearing, Fulton County Supreme Court Judge Shermel Williams issued an order temporarily banning the state from continuing its sentence on Tuesday.

She ruled in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Presnell’s attorneys, alleging that by setting a date of execution, the state violated an agreement that effectively postponed the execution of death sentences during coronavirus pandemic and established conditions under which they could recover.

State attorneys said they would appeal the judge’s ruling so that the execution of the sentence could proceed as planned.

Earlier on Monday, the State Pardon and Parole Board, the only government in Georgia that can mitigate the death sentence, refused to end Presnell’s sentence.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Federal Defenders Program by Presnell, alleges that the agreement states that, with one exception, the death penalty will not be reinstated until six months after three conditions are met: the expiration of a state court decision on COVID-19. the state of emergency, the resumption of regular visits to public prisons and the availability of the COVID vaccine “for all members of the public”.

The state of emergency ended in June, but prisons still use changed visiting policies, and children under the age of 5 are still unable to access the vaccine, said in court Mike Kaplan, a lawyer representing the advocates program.

Jonathan Logel, the state’s attorney, argued that the agreement was not a binding contract and that the state “substantially complied” with its terms. He said attendance “is recovering to our new norm” and that the vaccine is widely available within a year.

The agreement said that after fulfilling the conditions, the state intends to achieve the date of execution of Billy Rawlerson, who was sentenced to death for the murder of three people in May 1993 in South Georgia, and that Rawlerson’s lawyers will be notified at least three months after the conditions. , the lawsuit says. The Attorney General’s Office said it would not seek the execution of anyone else covered by the agreement at least six months after the conditions were met, the lawsuit said.

In late April, the attorney general’s office told Rawlerson’s lawyer that the state intended to sentence Rawlerson to May 17, the lawsuit said. After Rawlerson’s lawyer reminded the state prosecutor that she had agreed not to impose a sentence during his previously scheduled vacation, the attorney general told him that Rawlerson’s sentence would be imposed no earlier than August.

A few days later, on April 25, the state’s attorney told Presnell’s lawyer, Monet Brewerton-Palmer, that the state intended to demand that it be enforced, the lawsuit said. The warrant was issued on April 27.

Contrary to the agreement, the Attorney General warned Bruerton-Palmer in just two days of his intention to set a date for his execution, the lawsuit said. That left her not enough time to prepare for Monday’s pardon hearing, the lawsuit said.

The pardon hearing lasted just an hour Monday morning, and Brewerton-Palmer did not call a single witness or expert to testify or present dozens of witnesses she would otherwise have presented, Kaplan said.

“Often this is the best hope that a prisoner sentenced to death will not be executed,” Kaplan said. “Her pardon case this morning was completely ruined.”

In a pardon petition filed with the parole board, Bruerton-Palmer claimed he had a “deeply damaged brain” and did not understand the damage he had done to the two girls. But because of COVID’s restrictions on visits and travel, and because of an expert witness who recently suffered from a heart problem, she was unable to give evidence to support this.

Brewerton-Palmer was working on the Presnell case, but because of the agreement it “was not on her radar as an emergency,” Kaplan said. He urged the judge to postpone the sentence to give Brewerton-Palmer time to complete the investigation and properly prepare for a new pardon hearing.

It is in the public interest to ensure that the promises made by the state are kept, and to avoid the notion that Presnell would have been punished prematurely if his lawyer had not been ready to file a pardon case, Kaplan said.

Loegel argued that the state was interested in ensuring the speedy and timely administration of justice, and delays in enforcing it would prevent this. Brewerton-Palmer has known since last fall that Presnell has exhausted his appeals and therefore had plenty of time to prepare, he argued.

Williams said it was clear to her that an email agreement should be binding on the parties. According to her, the “Federal Defender Program” could not prepare due to COVID-related reasons, and she relied on the agreement.

Understandably, Presnell, whom she allowed to intervene in the lawsuit, faces irreparable damage if the sentence is not postponed, the judge said: “We can not return from death.”

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