A Georgia man on death row in Georgia is scheduled to be executed Wednesday evening with a lethal injection, although he repeatedly insists that the state examine crucial DNA evidence that could exonerate him.
Ray “Jeff” Cromartie, 52, acknowledges being involved in a robbery in a shop near the Georgia-Florida border in 1994 that left one clerk dead, but he has long confirmed that he was not the person who shot the gun that killed Richard Slysz. He maintains his co-defendant, Corey Clark, shot Slysz, and that DNA testing on both clothing and bullet casings might prove that claim. One of the co-suspects of Cromartie also believes that Clark may have shot Slysz, and the victim’s daughter has also asked for DNA testing as well.
Since Cromartie retains his innocence, he refuses to ask the state for leniency. He also rejected the original 1997 plea deal offered to him by prosecutors, since he would be required to plead guilty.
In the second half of the nineties, both Clark and the getaway driver for the robbery, Thad Lucas, evaded the charges of murder and the death penalty for agreeing to testify for the state. In exchange, they were given shorter sentences. Meanwhile, Clark designated Cromartie as the shooter, although there was never any physical evidence that linked him to the murder. Cromartie was still convicted. Lucas and Clark both completed time in prison, but were released in the early 2000s, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Although Clark has been mainly out of sight of the public since he was accused of violating his parole back in 2015, Lucas came forward in an affidavit this week to affirm that he once overheard Clark confess, and said that he couldn’t be sure that Cromartie was the shooter after all.
“I keep hearing that Jeff Cromartie is the shooter, and I know that is probably not true,” Lucas wrote. He said he didn’t come forward earlier because he didn’t think it would change anything, but then news coverage compelled him to speak out.
Slysz’s daughter, Elizabeth Legette, has also said she supports DNA testing to prevent another “meaningless” death. “My father’s death was senseless. Executing another man would also be senseless, especially if he may not have shot my father,” she wrote in a July 16 letter released by Cromartie’s defense team.
Cromartie’s lawyers also appealed Friday, stating that in 1997, Lucas told the Georgia Board of Pardons and Probation in 1997 that Clark, not Cromartie, shot Slysz.
State attorneys, however, have argued that Lucas does not know what happened in the store on the night of the shooting (he was waiting in the car while Clark ran inside with Cromartie) and that the claims do not conform to the standard where the court would review the evidence or would hold a new trial.
As early as September, a judge ruled that the attorneys had failed to review DNA evidence and that the verdict was ratified by the Georgia Supreme Court this month. Southern Judicial Circuit Senior Judge Frank Horkan, who had originally headed Cromartie’s death penalty trial, also said in September that Cromartie waited too long to request DNA testing and that testing would make no difference.
Cromartie could still be executed, even if DNA evidence were to prove he didn’t pull the trigger due to Georgia’s law of parties, which holds people legally responsible, also if they are involved in a crime and not the main culprit of a crime such as murder.
Currently, Cromartie is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7.00 pm EST. in Georgia Diagnostic Prison in Jackson. He is said to be the third prisoner to be executed in Georgia in 2019, and at least the second high-profile execution of a black man who insists he can be acquitted by DNA evidence. Rodney Reed, a Texas man on death row who claims to be innocent of the murder he was indicted, is due to be executed on November 20. According to the Innocence Project, a legal organization that’s representing Reed in his call to survive, DNA evidence has exonerated at least 20 people in death row.
Live coverage of developments in Ray Cromartie’s execution happening below.
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