Brian Kammer, an attorney with the Georgia Resource Center and the defense attorney for Marcus Ray Johnson, explains to Chief Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette why there needs to be a stay ofJohnson's execution scheduled for tonight.
ALBANY — When Chief Dougherty Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette announced Tuesday that he was ordering a stay of execution for Marcus Ray Johnson, an audible gasp arose from the family of the the woman Johnson was convicted of killing, Angela Sizemore.
Tears flowed from Sizemore’s daughter, who was consoled by relatives.
“Let me be clear. This does not set him free. It does not overturn his conviction. It does not vacate his death sentence,” Lockette said following his decision Tuesday.
What it does do is delay Johnson’s execution — scheduled for 7 p.m. today — until after an evidentiary hearing can be held in February 2012 to determine whether evidence used to convict Johnson in 1998 can be tested using modern forensic technology.
But even the order from the superior court judge may not be enough to postpone Johnson’s execution.
Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards on Tuesday filed an emergency appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court, asking that the court immediately consider overturning Lockette’s stay. If the high court overrules Lockette, the execution would be back on.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Heather Lanier said late Tuesday that an assistant district attorney had been dispatched with the appeal to Atlanta Tuesday night so that it could be delivered by hand first thing this morning.
Officials with the Supreme Court told the Herald Tuesday to expect word from the court sometime today.
Lanier said she and Edwards would be leaving for Jackson around 1 p.m. unless there was word from the court earlier upholding Lockette’s decision.
During his attempt to convince Lockette to deny Johnson’s motion for a stay of execution, Edwards rehashed the evidence of the case, pointing to the testimony of four people who said they saw Johnson in the area near where Sizemore’s body was found and to physical evidence, such as blood that was found on Johnson’s jacket.
“Your honor, there is overwhelming evidence that Marcus Johnson committed this murder,” Edwards said. “This man was 100 percent guilty then and is 100 percent guilty now.”
Brian Kammer, one of three attorneys who are trying to get Johnson a new trial, argued that there was evidence that, if tested using modern science, would likely cause a jury to acquit Johnson.
“If this case happened today, Mr. Johnson likely wouldn’t have been the one prosecuted,” Kammer said. “It is not right to allow someone to be executed when evidence exists that could be tested.”
Kammer worked to drill holes in the state’s assertion that one man raped, tortured and killed Sizemore by targeting evidence that either wasn’t tested for DNA or was tested using outdated and less-thorough methods.
Pointing specifically to the branch Edwards told jurors during the trial was used to mutilate and impale Sizemore, Kammer said that Edwards’ contention that the branch had fecal matter and physical evidence on it wasn’t true.
“The branch is arguably the most famous piece of evidence in this entire case,” Kammer said. “There was no fecal matter on that branch. There was nothing on that branch but branch.”