Attorneys for Georgia death row inmate Marion Wilson Jr., who is scheduled to be executed Thursday, will argue for clemency during a parole board hearing today.
Wilson is scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m. Thursday for the 1996 murder of Donovan Corey Parks in Baldwin County.
Wilson and another man, Robert Earl Butts Jr., encountered Parks at a Milledgeville Walmart March 28, 1996. According to a Georgia Supreme Court summary of the case, Wilson and Butts were seen standing behind Parks in a checkout line and later behind Parks’ car parked in front of the store.
A witness reportedly heard Butts ask Parks for a ride and several witnesses reportedly saw Butts and Wilson get into Parks’ Acura.
Parks’ body was soon discovered face down on a nearby residential street. Wilson later told law enforcement officers that Butts had pulled a sawed-off shotgun on Parks, ordered him out of the vehicle and to lie on the ground before shooting him in the back of the head.
Butts was executed May 4, 2018, for his role in the murder.
Wilson was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to death on charges of malice murder, felony murder, armed robbery, hijacking a motor vehicle, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and possession of a sawed-off shotgun.
Wilson’s attorneys argue in a clemency petition that prosecutors overstated his juvenile record and his involvement in gang activity before the murder, and falsely claimed at sentencing that Wilson was the triggerman in order to get a death sentence.
“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. Instead, largely out of fear that, as a young, small-statured inmate, he would be endangered in general population at a maximum-security prison, Marion declined the offer. Tellingly, Bright never offered Butts a plea, though his lawyer ‘begged’ for one,” Wilson’s attorneys wrote in the clemency petition to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles.
“His offer spurned, prosecutor Bright sought the death penalty for both Marion and Butts. Marion went to trial first, and in his summation in the penalty phase, Bright, without a shred of evidence, accused Marion of being the shooter, the man who ‘sent 50 pellets . . . into the back of [Mr. Parks’] head.’ The jury then imposed the death penalty on Marion, who Bright claimed was the killer of Donovan Parks.”
Wilson’s attorneys also argue that jurors never heard mitigating evidence related to his upbringing and cognitive impairment.
“Wilson’s life — from conception to incarceration — was characterized by instability, neglect, abuse and trauma. Teachers, social workers and family friends remember a warm, intelligent and creative child yearning for a nurturing environment but trapped in a hopeless situation. Subjected to racism throughout his childhood by his extended family, school and the broader community for his biracial identity, Marion struggled to find himself and gradually succumbed to the self-destructive lifestyle that resulted in his imprisonment as a juvenile offender at the age of 17,” his attorneys wrote. “What makes Marion’s childhood even more tragic is that it is clear that for a few brief periods in his life when he actually had a modicum of stability, security and emotional and moral support, he was able to thrive.
“The jury that sentenced Marion to death was wholly unaware of his history of pervasive and prolonged abuse and neglect at the hands of numerous adults in his life, as well as evidence of impaired cognitive function and organic brain damage.”
Wilson’s attorneys also note that since 1996, the year of the murder, only three defendants across the country — who did not, themselves, kill – have been executed as accomplices to murder. Since 1976, the year the death penalty was reinstated, only one person in Georgia who did not directly kill the victim has been executed. Kelly Gissendaner had been convicted of orchestrating her husband’s murder near Dacula in 1997 and was put to death by lethal injection in 2015.
If executed, Wilson will be the 51st Georgia inmate to die by lethal injection.
According to the Department of Corrections, he 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.