State panel rejects plea to delay execution scheduled for Wednesday

    The state Board of Pardons and Paroles says it is reviewing potential clemency releases for nonviolent offenders to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Contributed by the Georgia Department of Corrections.

    A state panel will not halt the execution of a 52-year-old man convicted of a 1994 killing to allow more time for the federal courts to consider a last-minute request for DNA testing.

    The state Board of Pardons and Paroles met behind closed doors Tuesday to hear arguments for and against sparing the life of Ray Jefferson Cromartie, although the condemned man did not formally request clemency.

    Cromartie made the unusual move not to ask for clemency because the petition would have required him to ask for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to his attorneys. Cromartie maintains that he was not the person who shot Richard Slysz, 50, at the convenience store where Slysz worked.

    Ray Jefferson Cromartie is scheduled to be executed Wednesday evening for a 1994 murder in Thomas County. Photo from the Georgia Department of Corrections

    Instead, Cromartie asked the board to stop his execution from being carried out as planned at 7 p.m. Wednesday while his request for DNA testing moved through the federal courts.

    But that is something the board’s spokesman, Steve Hayes, says the panel lacks the power to do. Rather, it can only postpone an execution for up to 90 days for its own deliberations, he said.

    “Even though Cromartie did not request his sentence be commuted, the board reviewed its comprehensive case file on him and all information received at today’s meeting and determined not to grant clemency by commuting the death sentence,” Hayes said in a statement.

    The state board is one of the last hopes for inmates condemned to death row. The authority to grant clemency and convert a death sentence to life with the possibility of parole or to life without the possibility of parole rests with the five-member panel.

    Attorneys continue to press for testing on pieces of evidence, such as clothing and shell casings. Slysz’s daughter, Elizabeth Legette, has also called for DNA tests, writing in a July letter to the state’s Supreme Court that questions hovering over the case “could be answered by DNA testing.” Prosecutors have dismissed Cromartie’s request as a stalling tactic.

    The courts have so far rejected those requests. His attorneys filed an appeal Tuesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta after a federal judge in Georgia denied Cromartie’s request to halt the execution so DNA testing could be done.

    The state Supreme Court unanimously voted Friday to dismiss Cromartie’s request to stay his execution. The court also denied his request to hear an appeal of a lower court’s decision to deny a request for DNA testing and a new trial.

    Slysz was shot in the head twice during a robbery at the Junior Food Store in Thomasville on April 10, 1994. Three days earlier, another store clerk was shot in the face at another convenience in town. Witnesses fingered Cromartie as the gunman in both shootings.

    Cromartie’s lawyers, though, contend their client was not the shooter. They argue his cousin, Gary Young, who claimed to have handed Cromartie the gun the night of the murder, changed his story and denied giving Cromartie the gun in a sworn deposition in 2012. A jury convicted Cromartie in 1997.

    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.