Georgia man set to die for killing of mother's friend

AP News
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Posted: Dec 05, 2015 11:03 AM

ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia death row inmate is set to be executed in the killing of a close friend of his mother, but his lawyers say he's innocent and that prosecutors used false and misleading testimony to convict him.

Brian Keith Terrell, 47, is scheduled for execution on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the state prison in Jackson. He was convicted of stealing checks from and then killing John Watson, a good friend of his mother, in 1992.

No physical evidence links Terrell to the scene and his cousin, whose testimony prosecutors relied on, has since said he lied to save himself, Terrell's lawyers argued in a court filing Friday.

Terrell was on parole in June 1992 when he stole 10 checks belonging to John Watson, 70, of Covington, and signed his own name on some of them. Watson told Terrell's mother and police about the theft and agreed not to press charges if most of the stolen money was returned the next day.

Terrell had his cousin drive him to Watson's house and then shot Watson multiple times as the older man was leaving for a dialysis appointment, prosecutors said. Terrell dragged Watson to a secluded area and severely beat him, prosecutors said.

Bones in Watson's jaw, nose, cheek, forehead and eye socket were broken during the attack and some of Watson's teeth were knocked out. Authorities have said a piece of splintered bone also penetrated Watson's brain during the beating.

Prosecutors said Terrell took his son to the zoo after the attack and got rid of the gun there.

Terrell was indicted on charges of malice murder and 10 counts of forgery.

Terrell's first trial in Watson's death ended in a mistrial after jurors couldn't agree on his guilt. He was convicted and sentenced to death in a second trial, but the conviction was overturned by the state Supreme Court because of an error during jury selection. In a third trial, Terrell was again sentenced to death.

Shoe prints taken from dirt around Watson's body were made by feet smaller than Terrell's and 13 latent prints collected and tested by authorities didn't match Terrell's fingerprints, his lawyers argue.

Prosecutors relied heavily on the testimony of Terrell's cousin, Jermaine Johnson, Terrell's lawyers wrote in their court filing. Johnson was Terrell's co-defendant and had been in jail for more than a year with the threat of the death penalty hanging over him when he agreed to a deal with prosecutors to testify against his cousin. He was allowed to plead guilty to a robbery charge for which he got a five-year prison sentence.

"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," the district attorney said in his closing argument, according to Terrell's lawyers' filing.

In a sworn statement submitted by Terrell's lawyers, defense investigator Melanie Goodwill wrote that Johnson has told her and defense attorney Gerald King that he was 18 and facing the death penalty and was pressured by police and the prosecutor to testify against his cousin. He told Goodwill and King he would like to give a sworn statement telling the truth but is afraid he might be arrested and put in prison for perjury if he does, Goodwill wrote.

Prosecutors also misleadingly presented the testimony of a neighbor of Watson's as having said she saw Terrell at the scene when, in fact, the woman said Terrell is not the one she saw and prosecutors never asked her to identify him in court, Terrell's lawyers wrote.