ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia death row inmate scheduled to die this week has grown into a quiet man who has a positive effect on others and bears little resemblance to the teenager who helped beat a man to death two decades ago, his lawyers argue.
Joshua Bishop, 41, is set to be executed Thursday for the 1994 killing of Leverett Morrison in Milledgeville. The State Board of Pardons and Paroles, which is the only entity in Georgia authorized to commute a death sentence, held a clemency hearing for Bishop Wednesday. Board spokesman Steve Hayes said Wednesday evening that the board would issue its decision Thursday.
"The story of Joshua Bishop's life is one of deprivation, abuse, hopelessness, and crime; but it is also one of faith, contrition, redemption, gratitude, and love," Bishop's lawyers wrote in a clemency petition asking the parole board to spare his life.
Morrison's children, however, are adamant that the death sentence should be carried out, Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee said.
Bishop had an extremely rough childhood with a mother who constantly drank and used drugs and had a weakness for abusive men who beat her and her two sons, the petition says. He bounced between foster families and group homes, eventually returning to his mother, who was frequently in trouble with the law for drug and alcohol offenses or prostitution.
His lawyers say many who knew Bishop as he grew up shared a common feeling: that he "never had a chance."
Bishop spent June 19, 1994, drinking and using drugs with Morrison and a third man, Mark Braxley. They drank at a bar that evening and then went to Braxley's trailer, where they continued to drink and use drugs.
Morrison fell asleep and Braxley decided he wanted to take Morrison's Jeep to visit his girlfriend and instructed Bishop to "get them keys," the clemency petition says. Morrison woke up as Bishop was trying to take his keys from his pocket, and Bishop hit him over the head with a piece of a closet rod to knock him out, the petition says.
Bishop told investigators he and Braxley both beat Morrison and, once they realized he was dead, they dumped his body between two trash bins and burned his Jeep.
Bishop and Braxley were arrested within 24 hours of Morrison's death. Bishop quickly confessed and immediately showed remorse, while Braxley lied about the crime, the petition says.
While in police custody, Bishop told investigators he and Braxley had also killed another man, Ricky Willis, about two weeks earlier, also at Braxley's trailer. Bishop told police he repeatedly punched Willis after Willis bragged he had sexually assaulted Bishop's mother and then Braxley cut Willis' throat, killing him.
Bishop and Braxley were both charged with murder and armed robbery in Morrison's death. After a trial, a jury convicted Bishop and sentenced him to die. Braxley pleaded guilty and got life in prison. He's been denied parole twice and will next be eligible for consideration next year.
Bishop has admitted involvement in the deaths of Morrison and Willis. But his lawyers argue that Braxley, who's about 17 years older than Bishop, was the instigator and influenced Bishop in both cases.
Two decades in prison have given Bishop stability that has led him to become a positive influence on fellow inmates and others, and he still has good to do in the world, his lawyers argue. They gave the board statements from two of Morrison's sisters and his niece, as well as others who were close to Morrison and Willis, who wrote that they don't want to see Bishop executed.
But Massee, the sheriff, said he met on Monday with three of Morrison's family members, two daughters and a son, who said it's important that Bishop be executed for their father's death.
Also Wednesday, a Butts County Superior Court judge rejected a challenge filed by Bishop's lawyers that claimed his sentence was disproportionate, that the jury instructions at his trial were flawed and that the evidence used to convict him was insufficient. Bishop's lawyers have appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Bishop would be the third Georgia inmate executed this year. Another inmate, Kenneth Fults, is scheduled to die April 12.