Execution for Georgia man who killed girl temporarily stayed

May 16, 2022, 3:00 PM | Updated: 9:41 pm

ATLANTA (AP) — A judge on Monday temporarily delayed the execution of a Georgia man who was scheduled to die Tuesday for killing an 8-year-old girl 46 years ago.

Virgil Delano Presnell Jr., 68, killed the girl and raped her 10-year-old friend after abducting them as they walked home from school in Cobb County, just outside Atlanta, on May 4, 1976. He was scheduled to die by injection of the sedative pentobarbital at the state prison in Jackson at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Ruling from the bench at the end of a hearing that lasted more than eight hours Monday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shermela Williams issued an order temporarily prohibiting the state from proceeding with the execution Tuesday. She was ruling in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Presnell’s lawyers that alleged that by setting an execution date the state violated an agreement that effectively put executions on hold during the coronavirus pandemic and established conditions under which they could resume.

Lawyers for the state indicated they would appeal the judge’s ruling so the execution could proceed as planned.

Earlier Monday, the State Board Board of Pardons and Paroles, the only authority in Georgia that can commute a death sentence, had declined to halt Presnell’s execution.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of the Federal Defender Program, which represents Presnell, alleges the agreement said that, with one named exception, executions wouldn’t resume until six months after three conditions had been met: the expiration of the state’s COVID-19 judicial emergency, the resumption of normal visitation at state prisons and the availability of a COVID vaccine “to all members of the public.”

The judicial emergency ended in June, but prisons are still using a modified visitation policy and children under 5 still can’t access the vaccine, Mike Caplan, a lawyer representing the Federal Defender Program, argued in court.

Jonathan Loegel, a lawyer for the state, argued that the agreement wasn’t a binding contract and also said the state “substantially complied” with its terms. He said that visitation has “resumed in our new normal” and that the vaccine has been widely available for a year.

The agreement said that once the conditions were met, the state intended to seek an execution date for Billy Raulerson, who was sentenced to death for the May 1993 killings of three people in south Georgia, and that Raulerson’s lawyers would be given at least three months notice after the conditions were met, the lawsuit says. The attorney general’s office said it wouldn’t seek the execution of anyone else covered by the agreement until at least six months after the conditions were met, the lawsuit says.

In late April, the attorney general’s office informed Raulerson’s attorney that the state intended to schedule Raulerson’s execution for May 17, the lawsuit says. After Raulerson’s attorney reminded a state attorney that she had agreed not to schedule the execution during his previously scheduled vacation, the state attorney told him Raulerson’s execution wouldn’t be scheduled until August at the earliest.

A few days later, on April 25, the state attorney notified Presnell’s attorney, Monet Brewerton-Palmer, that the state intended to seek an execution warrant for him, the lawsuit says. The warrant was issued April 27.

Contrary to the agreement, the attorney general gave Brewerton-Palmer just two days of notice that they intended to set his execution date, the lawsuit says. That left her with insufficient time to prepare for his clemency hearing Monday, the lawsuit says.

The clemency hearing lasted only an hour Monday morning and Brewerton-Palmer did not call any witnesses or experts to testify or submit the dozens of witnesses she would otherwise have provided, Caplan said.

“This is often the best hope that a death sentence prisoner has of not being executed,” Caplan said. “Her case this morning for clemency was completely gutted.”

In a clemency application submitted to the parole board, Brewerton-Palmer had argued that he is “profoundly brain damaged” and didn’t understand the harm he was causing the two girls. But because of COVID restrictions on visitation and travel and an expert witness who recently suffered a heart problem, she wasn’t able to offer testimony to support that.

Brewerton-Palmer had been working on Presnell’s case, but it “was not on her radar as an emergency” because of the agreement, Caplan argued. He urged the judge to delay the execution to give Brewerton-Palmer time to complete her investigation and prepare properly for a new clemency hearing.

It is in the public’s interest to ensure that promises made by the state are kept and to avoid any perception that Presnell would be executed prematurely when his lawyer was unprepared to present a clemency case, Caplan said.

Loegel argued that the state has an interest in ensuring the prompt and timely administration of justice and delaying the execution would prevent that. Brewerton-Palmer has known since last fall that Presnell had exhausted his appeals and therefore had sufficient time to prepare, he argued.

Williams said it was clear to her that the emailed agreement was meant to be binding on the parties. The Federal Defender Program was prevented by COVID-related causes from preparing as it would have and relied on the agreement, she said.

It’s clear that Presnell, whom she allowed to intervene in the suit, stood to suffer irreparable harm if the execution wasn’t delayed, the judge said: “We can’t come back from death.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


(Facebook Photo/City of San Luis, Arizona)...
Associated Press

San Luis authorities receive complaints about 911 calls going across border

Authorities in San Luis say they are receiving more complaints about 911 calls mistakenly going across the border.
6 days ago
(Pexels Photo)...
Associated Press

Daylight saving time begins in most of US this weekend

No time change is observed in Hawaii, most of Arizona, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Marianas.
14 days ago
Mexican army soldiers prepare a search mission for four U.S. citizens kidnapped by gunmen in Matamo...
Associated Press

How the 4 abducted Americans in Mexico were located

The anonymous tip that led Mexican authorities to a remote shack where four abducted Americans were held described armed men and blindfolds.
14 days ago
Tom Brundy points to a newly built irrigation canal on one of the fields at his farm Tuesday, Feb. ...
Associated Press

Southwest farmers reluctant to idle farmland to save water

There is a growing sense that fallowing will have to be part of the solution to the increasingly desperate drought in the West.
21 days ago
A young bison calf stands in a pond with its herd at Bull Hollow, Okla., on Sept. 27, 2022. The cal...
Associated Press

US aims to restore bison herds to Native American lands after near extinction

U.S. officials will work to restore more large bison herds to Native American lands under a Friday order from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
21 days ago
Children play in a dried riverbed in Flassans-sur-Issole, southern France, Wednesday, March 1, 2023...
Associated Press

Italy, France confront 2nd year of western Europe drought

ROME (AP) — Bracing for Italy’s second consecutive year of drought for the first time in decades, Premier Giorgia Meloni huddled with ministers Wednesday to start mapping out an action plan Wednesday, joining France and other nations in western Europe grappling with scant winter rain and snow. Meloni and her ministers decided to appoint an […]
23 days ago

Sponsored Articles

(Photo by Michael Matthey/picture alliance via Getty Images)...
Cox Communications

Valley Boys & Girls Club uses esports to help kids make healthy choices

KTAR’s Community Spotlight focuses on the Boys & Girls Club of the Valley and the work to incorporate esports into children's lives.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
Execution for Georgia man who killed girl temporarily stayed