Georgia Executes Man Despite Evidence of Innocence


Updated: The State of Georgia executed Brian Keith Terrell tonight despite evidence that he is innocent and that prosecutors used false and misleading testimony to convict him.

Prosecutors alleged that Mr. Terrell killed 70-year-old John Watson in 1992, after Mr. Watson discovered that Mr. Terrell and another man had stolen his checkbook and written checks totaling $8700, with some of them made out to Mr. Terrell.

Mr. Terrell’s first trial ended in a mistrial when jurors could not agree on whether he was guilty. The second resulted in a conviction that was later overturned by the Georgia Supreme Court. The third trial concluded with a conviction and death sentence.

Mr. Terrell’s lawyers say that no physical evidence links him to the murder and that his conviction and death sentence are a product of prosecutorial misconduct and false and misleading testimony. Footprints found near the victim’s body were smaller than Mr. Terrell’s feet, and none of the thirteen fingerprints found by investigators matched his fingerprints.

The prosecution’s key witness was Jermaine Johnson, who spent a year in jail facing the death penalty before he agreed to testify against Mr. Terrell in exchange for a five-year sentence. Mr. Johnson has told defense investigators that police and prosecutors pressured him to give false testimony against Mr. Terrell. At trial, the prosecutor emphasized the importance of Mr. Johnson’s testimony, telling the jury, “If you never heard anything about Jermaine Johnson in this case, if he had never testified, would you have enough information to make a decision in this case? You wouldn’t.”

Mr. Terrell’s lawyers say that prosecutors also presented misleading testimony that a neighbor said she had seen Mr. Terrell at the crime scene, when she actually had told authorities that she had seen someone else.

This evidence was presented to the Parole Board during clemency proceedings, but shortly after prosecutors met with the board to argue the execution should go forward, the board denied clemency on Monday.

Mr. Terrell’s lawyers filed an appeal in federal court, citing possible problems with the lethal injection drug the state planned to use to execute Mr. Terrell. His execution was originally scheduled for March 10, but it was postponed after drugs compounded for the execution of Kelly Gissendaner were improperly handled. She was executed in September.

The appeal said Georgia Department of Corrections records show that the pharmacist used to make the lethal injection drugs has an unconstitutional error rate around 50 percent and the state should be required to use a different pharmacist that does not have a history of mixing defective drugs. The State of Georgia has been permitted to keep secret the source of its execution drugs, and the appeal said the state has never fully explained what went wrong with the drugs mixed earlier this year.