State Supreme Court issues stay of execution over procedural issue

    Rep. Brett Harrell of Snellville said Thursday that he thinks highlighting the cost of capital punishment may help win over the legislative support needed to eliminate Georgia's death row. Contributed by the Georgia Department of Corrections.

    Updated at 1:20 p.m. Wednesday 

    The state Supreme Court has delayed the execution of a 52-year-old, who was convicted of a 1994 killing in Thomasville, that had been scheduled for tonight.

    The court granted a request to temporarily halt the execution of Ray Jefferson Cromartie over a procedural issue, citing the “arguable voidness of the pending execution order,” according to an order released Wednesday morning. At issue is whether the pending execution order is valid because it was filed by a lower court as the state’s highest court was reviewing an appeal.

    Attorneys will have until Monday morning to make their case on whether the execution order is void.

    Cromartie’s attorneys, meanwhile, continue to press for more time for DNA testing on pieces of evidence, such as clothing and shell casings.

    “While the Supreme Court of Georgia stayed tonight’s scheduled execution on a jurisdictional question, we remain hopeful that the courts will ensure that DNA testing is completed in Mr. Cromartie’s case before an execution is carried out,” Shawn Nolan, an attorney for Cromartie, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “In this case, DNA testing could prove Mr. Cromartie innocent of capital murder.”

    Nolan noted that the victim’s daughter, Elizabeth Legette, has also called on the courts to allow the DNA testing. In a July letter, Legette urged the state’s Supreme Court to allow tests since questions hovering over the case “could be answered by DNA testing.”

    “The public has a strong interest in allowing DNA testing because the execution of an innocent person would be the gravest miscarriage of justice,” Nolan said.

    The state Supreme Court’s decision follows a state panel’s decision not to grant Cromartie’s request to delay the execution.

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

    Cromartie made the unusual move 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 typically 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.

    The courts have so far rejected the requests for DNA testing. 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.