He patiently waited in line at the Milledgeville Walmart. Donovan Parks was just there to buy food for his pets. He’d just left a Bible study with his father and was stopping to check a quick errand off the list.
That’s when a brief encounter with Robert Butts and Marion Wilson Jr. changed the lives all three men forever.
It was a simple act of kindness.
Donovan Parks offered to give Butts and Wilson a ride in his 1992 Acura Vigor.
They we’re not total strangers. Donovan and Butts had previously worked together at Burger King. Now, the 24-year old Parks was holding down two jobs. His main job was serving as a local prison guard, but he also put in hours at a grocery store. Parks was hoping to become a prison counselor someday.
Robert Butts, and his friend, 19-year-old Marion Wilson took a different path. Both were often on the other side of the law. They’d been in and out of jail several times on various charges misdemeanor charges.
Robert Butts is now dead too. And unless someone steps in at the last minute, Marion Wilson, now 42, will be the third man to die as a result of what happened the evening of March 28, 1996.
After Butts and Wilson failed to find a chop shop that would take the car and sell off the parts, they torched it. It was still on fire when the Bibb County Sheriff's Office found the blue sedan.
Photos: The murder of Donovan Parks
It was another eight weeks before the Baldwin County Grand Jury indicted Wilson and Butts on charges of murder, robbery, carjacking and possession of a sawed off shotgun.
Less than a month after charges were filed, District Attorney Fred Bright announced plans to seek the death penalty.
Legal Timeline of Wilson Case
According to the declassified clemency petition for Marion Wilson, it appears jurors in both trials were lead to believe different things. Those in the Wilson jury were told he was the gunman. But the Butts jurors also heard evidence suggesting that it was Butts, not Wilson, responsible for the death.
In fact, Wilson’s legal team says their client should be looking towards release - not a lethal injection.
“The prosecutor, Fred Bright, certainly believed that Butts was the more culpable party— well before Marion’s trial was set to begin, he offered Marion a parolable life sentence. Had Marion taken the plea offer, he would now be applying for parole, rather than clemency,” the petition argues.
That’s one of the key arguments attorneys for Marion Wilson hoped would persuade Georgia’s clemency board to issue a stay. That appeal for clemency, however, was denied, Thursday.
Execution in Georgia
In 2015, Kelly Gissendaner was executed for recruiting her boyfriend to kill her husband. She is the only other "non-trigger person" executed in Georgia since 1976.
On Wednesday, the parole board convened to hear any and all last-minute evidence in the Wilson case. That board is the only authority that can commute a death sentence.
In the case of Wilson’s co-defendant, the board did step in - granting a delay in order take more time considering the evidence. However, that mandate only lasted a few more hours. They ultimately reached a conclusion, and the Butts execution was carried out the following day - May 4, 2018.
On Thursday, just hours before Wilson is set to die, his petition for clemency was denied, as well.
For the Parks family, this has been a 23-year long roller coaster ride.
“Gangs, I just don't understand it. They did not have to do it. They could have found some other thing to do. They could have took whatever they wanted from him and went on. They could be - you could’ve asked me for mine, I'd of given it to them for his life,” Freddie Parks explained.
After finding his son dead in the street, Parks has been steadfast in seeing justice served. He sat through trials, hearings, and the execution of Robert Butts last year. Parks’ other son, Christopher, has been by his side.
“I just keep picturing him. It was right around 9 o'clock. Last time I saw him, and I think back to a lot of times when my mother was alive, she told me, she said, 'you never know when you leave the house when you come back and everything in it changes',” Christopher Parks told WMAZ.
The events of March 28, 1996 also changed the Wilson family.
“It hurts so much and my daddy is my world y'all,” Tykecia Wilson posted on her Facebook page.
In a candid video, she talked about how her dad is doing in the days leading up to the scheduled execution.
“Y’all just keep you prayers up. He's alright. He's in the best of spirits. He's at peace with everything, and as long as my father is at peace, then I'm at peace," she said. "It is going to hurt ... I know that I will see him again in heaven."
Plans for Execution
Wilson is scheduled to be executed Thursday sometime after 7 p.m. at the state's death-row prison in Jackson.
If the execution is delayed, the state has set a seven-day window in which to reschedule.
According to the Department of Corrections, Wilson has requested a last meal of one medium thin-crust pizza with everything, 20 spicy buffalo wings, one pint of butter pecan ice cream, apple pie and grape juice.
On the day of his scheduled execution, Marion Wilson was allowed to receive visitors between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. According to the Georgia Department of Corrections, he had five friends, four family and four clergy plus one attorney visit.
After the visitors departed, doctors conducted final physical examinations.
At 4 p.m., Wilson’s final meal request arrived. Prison officials say he ate about half of that before declining to record a last statement.
Around 6 p.m. Wilson opted to take an optional sedative of Ativan.
Meanwhile, outside the prison, protesters, including Wilson's daughter, rallied against the death penalty.
Photos: Georgia inmate executed for 1996 murder
Final Appeals Fail
Attorneys for Marion Wilson Jr. appealed to the Supreme Court the United States Petition for Writ of Certiorari.
Outside the Prison, Wilson’s daughter, Tykecia, spoke with 11Alive, saying, "I love my Daddy from the bottom of my heart. And I’m so sorry he’s going through this. I’m sorry to all of the other families that are suffering through this too."
But at around 9 p.m, the Supreme Court of the United States denied the last and final attempt to stay the execution. The news silenced many gathered around the gates, while Tykecia Wilson cried out in pain.
Stay with 11Alive, for continuing coverage of the execution of Marion Wilson, from both inside and outside of the prison.
11Alive’s Jeremy Campbell is among the media representatives set serve as a witness. He’ll be providing updates throughout the day and into the night.
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Erin Peterson, Jeremy Campbell, Ciara Frisbie, Maddie Ray, Matt Livingston and Peyton Lewis contributed to this report.