ATLANTA – Officials deciding the fate of a Georgia man set to be executed for killing a cop and injuring another have made their decision.
After a clemency hearing Tuesday, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles of Georgia denied the request by attorneys for Gregory Paul Lawler. Lawler is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at the state prison in Jackson on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The 63-year-old was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 2000. It was in October, 1997 when Lawler shot and killed Atlanta Police officer John Richard Sowa and critically wounded officer Patricia Cocciolone. Prosecutors say Lawler, then 45 years old, shot the officers as they tried to help bring his intoxicated girlfriend home. During testimony at the trial, Lawler claimed that he didn't trust the police and was a victim in the crime, despite evidence to the contrary.
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Documents from the State Board of Pardons and Paroles released Monday show Lawler’s attorneys wanted the Board to halt the execution because, last month, Lawler was, for the first time, diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. According to the attorneys, the recent diagnosis helps explain his actions that night; he thought the officers wanted to harm him when, in fact, they were simply helping his drunk girlfriend get home safely. The attorneys believe if Lawler's condition were known at the time of his trial, he never would have been sentenced to death.
Officer Cocciolone was one of the witnesses during today's hearing, along with Sowa's widow and sister, and the Fulton County District Attorney, Paul Howard. Howard said after the hearing that in Lawler's case, autism would not have prevented Lawler from knowing right from wrong when he pulled the trigger and shot the officers multiple times.
The Board members said they came to their decision after reviewing all case materials from Lawler's file, including the life and criminal history of the inmate, and circumstances of the crime.
If there are no additional last minute stays, Lawler will become the seventh Georgia inmate executed this year. Since the death penalty was reinstated in Georgia more than 40 years ago, the Pardons and Paroles Board has granted clemency to eleven inmates and denied clemency to more than 70.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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