JACKSON, Ga.—A Georgia inmate convicted of the 1996 shotgun slaying of a man who had agreed to give him and another man a ride outside a Walmart store was executed Thursday evening.
Marion Wilson Jr., 42, was pronounced dead at 9:52 p.m. following an injection of the sedative pentobarbital at the state prison in Jackson, the office of the Georgia attorney general said in a statement.
Wilson and Robert Earl Butts Jr. were convicted of murder and sentenced to death for the shotgun slaying of 24-year-old Donovan Corey Parks in Milledgeville, a community in rural Georgia about 90 miles (145 kilometers) southeast of Atlanta.
Wilson was convicted in November 1997 of malice murder, armed robbery, hijacking a motor vehicle, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and possession of a sawed-off shotgun. Butts was found guilty of the same charges about a year later.
Butts, who was 40, was executed in May 2018.
Wilson’s execution came after the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, the only authority in Georgia that can commute a death sentence, denied his clemency request. Efforts by his lawyers to get the courts to intervene also were unsuccessful.
The killing occurred on March 28, 1996, after Parks went to a Walmart to buy cat food, leaving his car right out front. A witness heard Butts ask Parks for a ride, and several people saw them getting into Parks’ car, according to a Georgia Supreme Court summary of evidence and the testimony presented at trial.
Butts was in the front passenger seat and Wilson was in the back as they left. A short distance away, the men ordered Parks out of the car, shot him in the back of the head and stole his car, prosecutors said.
At Wilson’s trial, while asking the jurors to impose the death penalty, Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright said Wilson “blew (Parks’) brains out on the side of the road.” A year later, during the sentencing phase of Butts’ trial in front of a different jury, Bright said Butts “pulled the trigger and blew out the brains of Donovan Corey Parks.”
Lawyers for each man seized on that discrepancy to argue that their client wasn’t the triggerman and shouldn’t be executed. State lawyers argued that it doesn’t matter who fired the fatal shot, that both men participated in the crime.
Wilson’s lawyers noted that Bright later said under oath that he believed Butts was the shooter. They argued that while Wilson knew Butts probably intended to rob someone that night, he didn’t know that Butts planned to harm or kill anyone and that Wilson played no active role in the slaying.
Wilson’s sentence was, therefore, unconstitutionally excessive and disproportionate, his lawyers had argued in an unsuccessful court filing. Bright also deliberately misled the jury about Wilson’s role to secure a death sentence in violation of his right to “a fair and reliable sentencing proceeding,” Wilson’s lawyers wrote.
State lawyers countered that Bright repeatedly said throughout the trial that it wasn’t clear which man fired the gun, but they said there was enough evidence that Wilson participated in the killing to merit a death sentence.
Wilson’s lawyers had also written in a clemency petition that his childhood was characterized by abuse, neglect and instability that led him to engage in criminal behavior that escalated as he got older. But they said the prosecution exaggerated Wilson’s juvenile criminal record and provided misleading speculation on his gang involvement.
Wilson was the second prisoner executed by Georgia this year. He was also the 1,500th put to death nationwide since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
By Kate Brumback