ATLANTA—Georgia is preparing to execute a man on Thursday, June 20, for a killing that happened more than two decades ago as his lawyers argue in the courts that he didn’t play an active role in the fatal shooting and shouldn’t be put to death.
Marion Wilson Jr., 42, is scheduled to receive a lethal injection of pentobarbital at 7 p.m. at the state prison in Jackson. He and Robert Earl Butts Jr. were convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the March 1996 killing of 24-year-old Donovan Corey Parks in Milledgeville, about 90 miles southeast of Atlanta.
Butts, who was 40, was executed in May 2018.
The State Board of Pardons and Paroles on Thursday denied Wilson’s request for clemency after holding a closed-door hearing Wednesday. The parole board is the only authority in Georgia that can commute a death sentence.
Wilson’s lawyers have also asked the courts to stop his execution.
A witness heard Butts ask Parks for a ride at a Walmart store where he had gone to buy cat food on March 28, 1996, prosecutors have said.
Butts was in the front passenger seat and Wilson was in the back as they left the parking lot. A short distance away, they ordered Parks out of the car, killed him and stole his car, prosecutors said.
Wilson’s lawyers argued in a court challenge filed in Butts County Superior Court that it was Butts who fired the fatal shotgun blast and that Wilson didn’t kill Parks or have any advance knowledge that Parks would be killed.
During Wilson’s trial, Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright told jurors it didn’t matter which man shot Parks, that they were both guilty of murder. But during the sentencing phase of the trial, Bright told jurors that Wilson “blew his brains out on the side of the road.”
Lawyers for the state countered that Bright repeatedly said throughout the trial that is wasn’t clear which man fired the gun. They also said courts have previously found there was enough evidence that Wilson participated in the killing to warrant a death sentence.
In a separate court challenge, Wilson’s lawyers are seeking a new trial and DNA testing on the necktie worn by Parks. The tie had been pulled so tight around his neck that it had to be cut from his body.
The necktie was critically important to the prosecution’s arguments that Wilson actively participated in the killing and deserved the death penalty, his lawyers argued. DNA evidence could have resulted in an acquittal, or at least a lesser sentence, if it had been available at the time of trial, they argued.
State lawyers said that even if DNA testing was done and Butts’ DNA was found and Wilson’s wasn’t, it wouldn’t matter since Wilson was wearing gloves the night of the killing and there is other evidence establishing his guilt.
A Baldwin County Superior Court judge last month rejected the request for a new trial. Wilson’s lawyers have asked the state Supreme Court to halt his execution to hear an appeal.
Wilson would be the 10th inmate to be executed in the United States in 2019 and the second in Georgia, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
By Kate Brumback