A man fatally sentenced 25 years ago as part of his conspiracy to steal beer was killed in Georgia on Wednesday night despite the last-minute lawyers soliciting him for DNA testing.
Ray Jefferson Cromartie, 52, who insisted on not killing the employee, was pronounced dead at 22:59. after an injection of pentobarbital in the state prison in Jackson. He did not make a final statement – but instead demanded that a prayer be spoken before the injection while strapping on a stretcher. The Associated Press reported that he had breathed deeply several times before closing his eyes and getting silent about five minutes after the medication was administered. At one point, he allegedly formed his mouth to an "O" and exhaled heavily.
Cromartie was convicted and sentenced to death for killing Richard Slysz at a supermarket in Thomasville near the Georgia-Florida line in April 1
Wednesday's execution took place shortly after the US Supreme Court had dismissed two appeals from the inmate's lawyers without explanation. The defense lawyers also recently petitioned state and federal courts to allow DNA testing of evidence from the shootings, which he claims would prove he was not the shooter. The state replied that the required DNA proof could not prove its innocence.
Lawyer Shawn Nolan called the rejection of DNA tests in a statement after the execution "so sad and frankly outrageous". "At the present time, when DNA testing is routine, it is shocking that Georgia has decided to end this man's life without us, his lawyers, having access to the materials to carry out these simple tests," said Nolan.
The trial revealed that on April 7, 1994, Cromartie had borrowed a gun from his cousin, entered the Deli on Madison Street that night, and shot employee Dan Wilson in the face, severely injuring him. Wilson could not describe his attacker, and the surveillance camera footage was not clear enough to uniquely identify the shooter. Days later, on April 10, Cromartie and Corey Clark asked Thaddeus Lucas to drive them to another shop to steal beer. Lucas parked and the other two entered the Junior Food Store. Cromartie shot Slysz twice in the head, the prosecution said. Cromartie and Clark could not open the cash register and fled after Cromartie packed two 12-packs of beer. In both cases, Cromartie told others that he shot the employees.
Lucas and Clark testified against Cromartie in September 1997, which ended with his death sentence. Lucas and Clark each committed minor charges, served prison terms, and were released.
Cromartie's lawyers had sought DNA evidence, including tests on bullet casings in both shootings, clothing near the first firing range, and Slysz clothing samples. The DNA tests could prove that Cromartie was not the shooter, his lawyers had argued. If he were not the shooter, he could not be guilty of the malicious murder for which he was sentenced to death under court records.
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They also published three statements from Slysz's daughter Elizabeth Legette, who supported DNA testing. Last Tuesday, she repeated her "serious questions" about Cromartie's guilt and criticized the state officials for not responding to their calls for testing. She said, "This leads me to conclude that the rights of the victim only affect those who support what the state seems to want most in death penalty cases – the execution of the perpetrator or alleged perpetrator."
The Associated Press has contributed to this report.