Georgia executes its oldest death row inmate, age 72

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Posted: Feb 03, 2016 1:48 PM
Georgia executes its oldest death row inmate, age 72

JACKSON, Ga. (AP) — Georgia executed a 72-year-old man, the state's oldest death row inmate, early Wednesday for the killing of a convenience store manager during a robbery decades ago.

Brandon Astor Jones was pronounced dead at 12:46 a.m. (5:46 GMT) Wednesday after an injection of barbiturate pentobarbital. He was convicted in the 1979 shooting death of suburban Atlanta store manager Roger Tackett.

Four news reporters, including one from The Associated Press, witnessed Jones' execution but only one was present when Jones was strapped down and the IV lines that would deliver the lethal drug were placed on his body. That reporter said the process took about an hour and 10 minutes, which is longer than usual.

A doctor was called in to help the two-person team place the IV lines, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Joan Heath. One line was put in Jones' right arm and another in the groin area, which is unusual but follows the state's execution protocol if access through veins in the arm or hand is not possible.

Jones declined to make a final statement but agreed to have a prayer read.

Georgia doesn't announce exactly when lethal injections begin, and the injection isn't visible to observers. But the warden left the execution chamber at 12:30 a.m. (5:30 GMT), and records from past executions show the lethal drug generally begins to flow within a minute or two of the warden's departure.

Jones was initially still with his eyes closed and then swallowed a couple of times and moved his head slightly. He opened his eyes six minutes after the warden left and turned his head to his left, appearing to look toward a clock on the wall. Then he closed his eyes again and took a few deep breaths before falling still.

The execution had been delayed by about four hours while the U.S. Supreme Court considered appeals from Jones' attorneys. The lawyers wanted it stopped because Jones was challenging Georgia's lethal injection secrecy law and because he said his death sentence was disproportionate to his crime.

The challenge to Georgia's strict execution secrecy law sharply divided the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday. The law classifies the identifying information of any person or entity who participates in an execution as a "confidential state secret."

Jones' lawyers argued the state's execution method violates his constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment. But because of the secrecy law, they argued, they don't have enough information to make that claim.

Three-judge panels of the 11th Circuit had already rejected similar arguments, setting a binding precedent. But because of divided opinions expressed by judges on those panels, Jones' lawyers asked the full 11-judge court to consider their arguments. The court on Tuesday voted 6-5 to deny that review, but several judges offered strongly worded dissenting opinions.

"Today Brandon Jones will be executed, possibly in violation of the Constitution. He may also be cruelly and unusually punished in the process. But if he is, we will not know until it's too late — if ever," wrote Circuit Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum.

According to evidence at his trial, Jones and another man, Van Roosevelt Solomon, were arrested at a Cobb County store by a policeman who had driven a stranded motorist there to use a pay phone about 1:45 a.m. on June 17, 1979. The officer entered after hearing shots. He found Jones and Solomon just inside a storeroom door and took them into custody. Tackett's body was found inside the storeroom.

Jones was convicted in October 1979 and sentenced to death. A federal judge in 1989 ordered a new sentencing hearing because jurors had improperly been allowed to bring a Bible into the deliberation room. He was resentenced to death in 1997.

Solomon, who was also convicted and sentenced to death, was executed by electric chair in February 1985.