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Judge temporarily halts execution of Georgia man convicted of killing 8-year-old girl

Virgil Delano Presnell, Jr. was scheduled to be executed Tuesday, May 17 at 7 p.m. at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.

ATLANTA — UPDATE: A judge has temporarily halted the execution of the Georgia man convicted of killing an 8-year-old girl and raping her 10-year-old friend Monday night.

Virgil Delano Presnell, Jr. was scheduled to be executed Tuesday, May 17 at 7 p.m. at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.

Georgia’s parole board on Monday declined to halt the execution, however, lawyers for the Federal Defender Program filed a lawsuit last week and an emergency motion Monday in Fulton County Superior Court. They said the setting of his execution date violates a written agreement with the office of the state attorney general that temporarily put executions on hold during the coronavirus pandemic.

This is a developing story, we'll continue to update as we learn more. 

ORIGINAL STORY: The State Board of Pardons and Paroles has decided to deny clemency for a death row inmate convicted of killing an 8-year-old girl and raping her 10-year-old friend, officials said.

Officials announced the decision regarding Virgil Delano Presnell, Jr. on Monday evening.  He is scheduled to be executed Tuesday, May 17 at 7 p.m. at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. 

Authorities said the children were abducted as they walked home from school in Cobb County, just outside Atlanta, on May 4, 1976. He was convicted in August 1976 on charges including malice murder, kidnapping and rape and was sentenced to death. His death sentence was overturned in 1992 but was reinstated in March 1999.

The Superior Court of Cobb County issued the execution order for Presnell. In Georgia, the Parole Board has the sole constitutional authority to grant clemency in a death penalty case. 

"The Board’s decision follows the consideration of all information and material received during today’s clemency meeting," a news release about the denied clemency reads. 

Credit: Georgia Department of Corrections
Virgil Delano Presnell, Jr.

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His attorney argued in a clemency application that Presnell had significant cognitive impairments that likely contributed to his crimes and has suffered horrific abuse in prison. 

“Before society makes a man pay the ultimate price for a crime, it must determine if his culpability justifies the cost. In Virgil’s case, it simply does not. Virgil Presnell is profoundly disabled,” his attorney Monet Brewerton-Palmer wrote in the clemency application that was declassified Friday by the State Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Presnell's mother drank large amounts of alcohol while she was pregnant with him, and a history of serious developmental disabilities is well-documented in his school records, Brewerton-Palmer wrote, adding that he grew up in an “abusive and unstable environment,” and sexual abuse was “endemic” in his family.

In addition, lawyers for the Federal Defender Program, where Brewerton-Palmer works, filed a lawsuit last week and an emergency motion Monday in Fulton County Superior Court. They said the setting of his execution date violates a written agreement reached last April with the office of state Attorney General Chris Carr that temporarily put executions on hold during the coronavirus pandemic and established conditions under which they could resume.

As a result of the alleged breach of that agreement, Brewerton-Palmer received notification on April 25, only two days before the state planned to seek the execution warrant, leaving only three weeks before the clemency hearing, the lawsuit says.

Brewerton-Palmer had asked the parole board to postpone his execution by 90 days so the board can review his application and then to commute his sentence to life without the possibility of parole.

Presnell would be the first person executed by Georgia this year and the seventh nationwide.

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