A Georgia Death Row Inmate Receives a Stay of Execution Amid Calls to DNA Test Evidence

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Georgia man Ray Jefferson Cromartie, 52, was granted a stay of execution before he was scheduled to die via lethal injection on Wednesday. Cromartie’s supporters hope that this latest window of opportunity will give him another chance to prove whether or not he fired the fatal shot that killed store clerk Richard Slysz in 1994.

As previously reported, Cromartie and another man, Corey Clark, were robbing Junior Food Store in Thomasville, Georgia, when they encountered Slysz. Slysz was shot twice in the head, once under his right eye and once in his left temple. Clark later testified on behalf of the state and pinned the shooting on Cromartie. Cromartie has maintained that he did not fire the fatal shots.

Though Cromartie was previously scheduled to die on Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Georgia “provisionally granted” him a stay of execution.

The court released a statement explaining the decision to stay the execution. They are questioning whether the execution order is void because it was filed by the trial court, which may have lacked the jurisdiction to do so at the time. Lawyers have until Monday morning to argue the validity of the execution order and if the provisionally-granted stay of execution should be dismissed.

Shawn Nolan, Cromartie’s lawyer, wrote that while his client’s execution was stayed on jurisdictional grounds, he is “hopeful that the courts will ensure that DNA testing is completed in Mr. Cromartie’s case before an execution is carried out.”

“The public has a strong interest in allowing DNA testing because the execution of an innocent person would be the gravest miscarriage of justice,” he added in his statement.

As I explained earlier this month, prosecutors relied on low-quality surveillance footage in a previous shooting to convict Cromartie of killing Slysz. The physical evidence that could either tie him to the murder or absolve him of it has never been DNA tested. A coalition of community residents, religious leaders, and even the victim’s own family are still fighting in hopes that the state will reverse its previous denial of post-conviction DNA testing.

“I have read a lot about the case and I believe that there are serious questions about what happened the night my father was murdered and whether Ray Cromartie actually killed him,” Slysz’s daughter, Elizabeth Legette, wrote in a letter earlier this month.

Even if this week’s jurisdictional debate were to lead to DNA testing, Cromartie faces another hurdle: According to Georgia’s law of parties, Cromartie could still be held liable for the murder—even if he didn’t fire the fatal shots—because he was involved in the robbery.

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