Condemned man’s lawyers push for DNA test as execution looms tonight

By: - November 13, 2019 8:47 am

Ray Jefferson Cromartie, a 52-year-old man convicted of the 1994 murder of a south Georgia store clerk, was executed by lethal injection Wednesday night. Contributed by Georgia Department of Corrections

Attorneys for a man whose execution is set for Wednesday evening continue to press for more time for DNA testing as time begins to run out.

Ray Jefferson Cromartie, a 52-year-old man convicted of the 1994 murder of a south Georgia store clerk, will die by lethal injection tonight at 7 p.m. unless one of these last-minute efforts succeeds.

“It is shocking and deeply troubling that Georgia has chosen to expend time, money and resources fighting DNA testing rather than releasing the evidence so that it can be tested before Ray Cromartie is executed,” one of Cromartie’s attorneys, Shawn Nolan, said in a statement Tuesday.

“The victim’s daughter, the public’s safety and the interests of justice would be all be far better served by using the most advanced DNA techniques to assess whether or not Mr. Cromartie is guilty or innocent of the crime for which he was sentenced to death,” Nolan said.

But Brad Shealy, who is the district attorney of the Southern Judicial Circuit District, said Tuesday that the requested DNA testing would not prove Cromartie’s innocence. Other evidence still points to Cromartie, he said.

“I just think it’s somewhat of a delaying tactic because the DNA won’t make a difference,” Shealy said in a phone interview. “The issue they have is who pulled the trigger, and the DNA’s not going to tell you who pulled the trigger.”

Cromartie’s attorneys want DNA testing on clothing, shell casings and other evidence.

When asked why these items were not tested earlier, Shealy noted that DNA testing was still relatively new to Georgia in the mid-1990s. The state Supreme Court allowed DNA evidence at trial for the first time in 1990.

Shealy said DNA testing may be done on such items today “just to be safe” and to head off questions from defense attorneys at trial.

Elizabeth Legette, who is the daughter of the victim, Richard Slysz, said she wants the testing done anyway.

Slysz was shot in the head twice during a robbery at the Junior Food Store in Thomasville. Three days earlier, another store clerk was shot in the face at another convenience in town but survived, and witnesses named Cromartie as the gunman in both shootings.

“For both incidents, knowing who loaded the gun (by testing the shells) would actually say a lot,” Legette said in a written statement provided by Cromartie’s attorney’s Tuesday.

“But second, to me, even if the testing wouldn’t be 100% conclusive, I want to know – as the victim in this case – what the testing would show, regardless of what it would or would not prove under the law. Answering those questions is tremendously important to me,” she said.

The lead-up to Cromartie’s execution has been unusual. He was originally set to die on Oct. 30, but a procedural misstep by a lower court caused the state Supreme Court to delay the execution. Cromartie also made the rare move not to request clemency from the state because doing so would have required him to request life in prison without parole.

His attorneys have also submitted a new statement from one of Cromartie’s co-defendants, Thaddeus Lucas, who is also Cromartie’s half brother and who drove the car on the night of the murder. Lucas now claims that he overheard another co-defendant admit to the murder – something he said he kept a secret because he had already served 10 years in prison and feared further trouble, according to a recent court filing.

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.