(PM) — Maintaining that Marion Wilson did not murder anyone and did not contemplate that killing occurs, lawyers for the Georgia death-row prisoner have filed a clemency request asking the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles to mitigate Wilson’s sentence to life without parole. The Board held a clemency hearing on Wednesday, June 19, 2019, one day before Wilson’s execution occurs. The Board has, at the time of posting, still not responded to Wilson’s petition for clemency.
Wilson was convicted of the 1996 killing of Donovan Parks. Robert Earl Butts, who was executed in 2018, was tried independently for the murder and condemned to death after prosecutor Fred Bright informed the jury that the state’s data proved that Butts had pulled the trigger. Both Butts and Wilson were witnessed asking Parks for a ride and getting into his vehicle. Soon after, Parks was found lifeless of a gunshot wound. Wilson’s lawyers contend that Bright, who indicted both men, “certainly believed that Butts was the more culpable party” because he granted a plea deal to Wilson but not Butts. Wilson surmised Butts planned to rob someone but has long ascertained that he had no idea Butts planned to hurt or kill anyone.
Wilson went to trial first and was condemned. Although the prosecution proffered no evidence that Wilson was the shooter, Bright nonetheless presented to the jury in the penalty phase that he had been the triggerman. Later on at Butts’ trial one year then, Bright repudiated that argument, conferring evidence that Butts committed the killing. “That the prosecution falsely maintained that Marion was the shooter to obtain the death penalty was, and remains, highly unethical and contrary to the State’s higher duty of probity and truthfulness in any criminal proceeding,” the clemency petition states.
The clemency petition also examines other false statements by the prosecution that it says gave the jury a “grossly distorted version of [Wilson] ‘s teenage years and gang involvement.” Bright had doubly been found by the Georgia Supreme Court to have made bad-faith statements striving to link crimes to gangs when there was no evidence they were gang-related. Nevertheless, Wilson’s trial lawyer neglected to proffer evidence to the jury repudiating the prosecutor’s false declarations.
Ultimately, Wilson’s clemency attorneys furnished the Board with extensive mitigating evidence that trial counsel neglected to display to the jury. They state: “Wilson’s life — from conception to incarceration — was characterized by instability, neglect, abuse, and trauma. Teachers, social workers, and family friends remember a warm, intelligent, and creative child yearning for a nurturing environment but trapped in a hopeless situation. Subjected to racism throughout his childhood by his extended family, school and the broader community for his biracial identity, Marion struggled to find himself and gradually succumbed to the self-destructive lifestyle that resulted in his imprisonment as a juvenile offender at the age of 17. What makes Marion’s childhood even more tragic is that it is clear that for a few brief periods in his life when he actually had a modicum of stability, security, and emotional and moral support, he was able to thrive.”
Since the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed Georgia’s death-penalty statute in 1976, the state has executed solely one prisoner who the data showed did not perpetrate the crime — Kelly Gissendaner, who was condemned of devising and covering up her husband’s death.
Wilson’s lawyers are pleading to the state Supreme Court to stop his execution and hear an appeal of the lower court’s ruling. If executed, Wilson will be the 51st Georgia inmate to die by lethal injection, and the 1,500th death row inmate nationwide to be executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, via the US Supreme Court.