The State of Georgia executed Ray Cromartie, 52, late Wednesday night.
Cromartie was convicted in the 1994 shooting death of store clerk Richard Slysz in Thomasville. Cromartie and a man named Corey Clark encountered Slysz while robbing his store. Slysz was shot twice in the head. Clark would later testify that Cromartie was the shooter. The state used this testimony and low-quality security footage of a man fitting Cromartie’s general description to convict him.
There is reason to doubt the state’s case against Cromartie. In an affidavit from Thaddeus Lucas, Cromartie’s half-brother and driver the night of the robbery, Lucas says he overheard Clark brag about the shooting in an apartment. If this is true, then Clark had a strong motive to work with prosecutors and pin the shooting on Cromartie. Because of his cooperation, Clark avoided murder charges and a death sentence.
Cromartie’s lawyers argued that DNA testing could exonerate him. But petitions for a DNA test were ignored. Since Cromartie participated in the robbery that led to the man’s death, he was a party to the crime—and under State Code 16-2-20, that means he can still be held responsible for the murder even if he didn’t actually fire the shot. So it’s legally possible, though morally absurd, for the man who didn’t pull the trigger to go to the death chamber while the man who did pull the trigger isn’t charged with murder at all.
Over time, Cromartie attracted many supporters to his cause, including Slysz’s own daughter. Elizabeth Legette, the daughter of the victim, looked over the case herself. She wrote several letters expressing that she had concerns about whether or not Cromartie was really the killer. The day before Cromartie was scheduled to be executed, Legette expressed her displeasure:
I understand that I have certain rights as a victim under both the Georgia Constitution and statutes, most notably, the right “to be treated with fairness, dignity, and respect,” and the right “to be heard at any proceedings involving…[the] sentencing of the accused.” In the course of the past few months, I have not been treated with fairness, dignity, or respect, and people in power have refused to listen to what I had to say. I believe this was, in part, because I was not saying what I was expected to say as a victim. This leads me to the conclusion that victim’s rights extend only to those who support what the State apparently wants most in death penalty cases—the execution of the offender or alleged offender.
What Legette wanted, she explained, was answers in her father’s death. She added that she found it “shocking and surprising” that Cromartie’s defense team was “there for me when the State was not,” speaking of her desire to have the physical evidence in the case tested for DNA.
Cromartie was initially scheduled to die on Wednesday at 7 p.m. His lawyers filed two last-minute petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court asking for a stay of execution. The court denied both petitions late in the night, and the lethal injection was administered at 10:59 p.m.
“It is so sad and frankly outrageous that the state of Georgia executed Ray Cromartie tonight after repeatedly denying his requests for DNA testing that would have proven he did not kill Richard Slysz,” says Shawn Nolan, Cromartie’s lawyer. “In this day and age, where DNA testing is routine, it is shocking that Georgia decided to end this man’s life without allowing us, his attorneys, access to the materials to do these simple tests. The victim’s daughter repeatedly asked that the state conduct this testing. The people of Georgia, and those in this country who believe in fairness, justice and compassion, deserve better.”