Supreme Court denies stay for man in 1996 killing over car

Robert Earl Butts Jr., Robert Butts Jr.
The Associated Press

JACKSON, Ga. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday denied a stay of execution for a man convicted of killing an off-duty prison guard 22 years ago, clearing the way for the state of Georgia to give him a lethal injection. 

Robert Earl Butts Jr., 40, was scheduled to die Friday night by injection of the compounded barbiturate pentobarbital at the state prison in Jackson. Butts and Marion Wilson Jr., 41, were both convicted of murder and armed robbery in the March 1996 slaying of 24-year-old Donovan Corey Parks.

The decision by the nation’s highest court was issued without explanation, and a spokeswoman said no more filings were expected in the case.

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles, the only authority in Georgia with the power to commute a death sentence, also voted not to spare his life.

Juries in separate trials found sufficient evidence to sentence both men to death because Parks was killed during the commission of an aggravating felony, armed robbery. Wilson’s case is still pending in the courts.

Butts was to be the second inmate executed by Georgia this year. Carlton Gary, convicted of raping and killing three older women and known as the “stocking strangler,” was put to death in March.

Prosecutors said Butts and Wilson targeted Parks after standing behind him in the checkout line of a Walmart store in the central Georgia city of Milledgeville. They asked Parks for a ride, and he agreed.

A short distance from the store, one of the men showed Parks a shotgun and ordered him to pull over. Parks was dragged from the car and killed by a single shot to the head. Investigators later found a shotgun under Wilson’s bed. A witness said Butts had given the shotgun to Wilson to hold after the killing.

Authorities said Butts and Wilson were gang members who had gone looking for a victim when they drove Butts’ car to the Walmart store.

His attorneys insisted in a clemency application to the parole board that Butts wasn’t the shooter. A jailhouse witness, Horace May, who testified at Butts’ trial that Butts confessed to being the shooter, has now signed a sworn statement saying he made the story up out of sympathy for Wilson, whom he also met in jail, Butts’ lawyers wrote. Wilson also told May that the pair had agreed to steal Parks’ car but that Butts believed they would release Parks, according to the statement.

Butts’ lawyers also argued that Wilson consistently had possession of the gun used to kill Parks; that there’s no evidence Butts was a member of a gang or that Parks’ killing was gang-related; and that their attempt to sell the car at a chop shop shows the crime was financially motivated.

They also said he shouldn’t be executed because given the nature of the crime, they argued that he likely wouldn’t be sentenced to death if he were prosecuted today. They said a death sentence was “grossly disproportionate,” and unconstitutional because although he was 18 at the time of the killing, his mental age and maturity lagged behind his actual age, it would be like sentencing a juvenile to death.

His attorneys also said his trial lawyers failed to thoroughly investigate his case or to present mitigating evidence such as childhood abuse and neglect that could have spared him the death penalty.