0

Penalty a fixture in Georgia since 1735

ALBANY -- If Albany native Marcus Ray Johnson meets his date with the executioner as planned Wednesday at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, he'll join a macabre class of alumni that goes back more than 275 years.

According to the Georgia Department of Corrections, state-authorized executions go back even before there was a state; to 1735 when Georgia was still a debtors colony for England and Gen. James Oglethorpe was resident trustee of the land.

For the lion's share of Georgia history -- 1735 through 1924, the method of execution in the state was death by hanging.

According to the DCOR, executions were carried out by the sheriff in the county or judicial circuit where the crimes had been committed.

DCOR records show that the history of Georgia executions starts in January 1735 when a woman, Alice Riley -- an African slave in Savannah -- was hung for the murder of her master, William Wise.

Assisted by her boyfriend Richard White, Riley was pregnant during her trial and was allowed to give birth before being executed on Jan. 19. White was executed the following day.

More than 500 court-sanctioned executions by hanging are believed to have occurred between 1735 and the end of 1924, including the hangings of Gervais Bloodworth and Willie Jones, who were hung in Columbus for a crime committed in Taylor County.

According to DCOR, the execution of Bloodworth and Jones was transferred out of the county because the two claimed that if hung in Taylor County that it would be public because spectators could see the gallows from the top of the drug store in Butler and therefore would be against the law.

In August 1924, the Georgia General Assembly abolished death by hanging and instead made death by electrocution as the preferred method of legal execution.

The first electric chair was built and installed at Georgia State Prison in Milledgeville.

Howard Hinton, of DeKalb County, was the first person to be executed in the electric chair in Georgia when the switch was flipped September 13, 1924.

The chair stayed in Milledgeville between 1924 and 1938 during which time 162 executions were carried out. On January 1, 1938, the chair was moved from Milledgeville to the new Georgia State Prison in Reidsville.

Archie Goodwin, a 37-year-old man from Worth County, was the first person die in the electric chair in Reidsville.

The electric chair was responsible for 256 executions -- including the execution of a 72-year-old man (oldest), and a 16-year-old boy (youngest) while it was in operation in Reidsville.

In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily unplugged "ole' Sparky." The moratorium on executions was replaced by U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1972 that abolished the death penalty for certain crimes.

In 1973, the Georgia General Assembly rewrote legislation that re-opened the death chamber. In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the new Georgia law as constitutional.

In June 1980, a new chair was built at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson and the one in Reidsville was decommissioned.

The first person to be executed in Georgia after the death penalty was reinstituted was John Eldon Smith, who was put to death in December 1983 for a murder in Bibb County.

In 2000, the Georgia General Assembly again changed methods of execution. The electric chair was dropped in favor of lethal injection.

Since 2000, 20 executions have been carried out using lethal injection.

While lethal injection remains the staple form of execution in Georgia and several other states, the chemical recipe for the procedure has changed.

In June, the GDCOR began using a new "drug protocol," when administering the death penalty because of a shortage of Sodium Thiopental.

Pentobarbitol, a sedative that is used in physician-assisted suicides and by other states as part of the lethal three-drug cocktail, is part of the Georgia mix.

Pancuronium bromide is a muscle relaxant and paralytic, meaning it paralyzes the subject once administered.

Finally, potassium chloride is administered which disrupts the electric signals between the brain and the heart, causing the heart to stop.