SAVANNAH, Ga. – The Georgia parole board on Thursday declined to spare the life of a condemned inmate after considering his clemency request, and set a new date for his execution.
Robert Early Butts Jr., 40, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Friday. The state Department of Corrections announced the new date Thursday soon after the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Butt's request for clemency.
Butts was initially set to die Thursday night, but the execution was temporarily halted when the parole board issued a stay Wednesday to give itself more time to consider Butts' case. The board announced Thursday afternoon it had voted to deny Butts' clemency petition.
"Knowing the gravity of its decisions, the Board extended deliberations in order to consider supplemental information submitted during the meeting that members had not previously reviewed," parole board spokesman Steve Hayes said in a statement. "Completing that process, the Board voted to deny clemency."
Butts and Marion Wilson Jr., 41, were convicted of murder and armed robbery in the March 1996 slaying of 24-year-old Donovan Corey Parks in central Georgia. The two men asked Parks for a ride outside a Walmart store in Milledgeville and then ordered him out of the car and fatally shot him a short distance away. Prosecutors have said Butts fired the fatal shot.
Authorities said Butts and Wilson were gang members who had gone looking for a victim when they drove Butts' car to the Walmart store.
Juries in separate trials found sufficient evidence to sentence both men to death because Parks was killed during the commission of an aggravating felony, armed robbery. Wilson's case is still pending in the courts.
Butts' attorneys had asked the parole board in a clemency application filed last week to commute his death sentence to life in prison.
"I think about Mr. Parks and that night every single day, going over it again and again in my mind," Butts said in a statement included with his petition. "There's no excuse for what I did, and I'm tremendously sorry for what happened to Mr. Parks."
His attorneys insisted in the clemency application that Butts wasn't the shooter. A jailhouse witness, Horace May, who testified at trial that Butts confessed to being the shooter has now signed a sworn statement saying he made the story up out of sympathy for Wilson, whom he also met in jail.
Butts' attorneys also argued in his clemency petition that the single aggravating factor wouldn't warrant a death sentence in Georgia today. They also ask the board to consider commuting Butts' sentence to life in prison after weighing abuse and neglect during Butts' childhood, the fact that he was just 18 when the crime occurred and that he has expressed remorse.
Butts' lawyers submitted a supplement to the clemency application to the board at the clemency hearing Wednesday. In that supplement, they argued that evidence in the case indicates that Wilson consistently had possession of the gun used to kill Parks. They also said there's no evidence that Butts was a member of a gang or that Parks' killing was gang-related. They wrote that the fact that the two tried to sell the car at a chop shop shows the crime was financially motivated.