On Thursday night the State of Georgia likely executed a man who was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted.
Carlton Gary died after suffering a lethal overdose of compounded pentobarbital at the hands of the state.
In 1986, Mr. Gary was convicted of the 1977 murders and rapes of three elderly white women in Columbus, Georgia. He was suspected of seven murders and rapes during an 8-month period between September 1977 and April 1978. He was dubbed the Stocking Strangler.
One of the witnesses against him was 71 year-old Gertrude Miller who was raped in her house but someone survived the attempted strangling. She testified that Mr. Gary turned on the light in her bedroom while raping her and that allowed her to identify him. It turns out that in Ms. Miller's first account of the rape there was nothing said about the light being turned on. She told police she didn't know if her rapist was white or black. She later identified another man as her rapist before trial.
Even though he was not charged with the rape of Ms. Miller, then District Attorney, Bill Smith, told the jury that the same man had committed all seven rapes. He told the jury that the reason Mr. Gary was charged with only three of the murders is because there were only three houses in which his fingerprints were (supposedly) found. As it turned out, this was a very dubious claim.
However, when, years after his conviction, the sheets from Ms. Miller's bed were tested, the DNA recovered from those sheets was not a match for Mr. Gary. So, if we believe the state's theory of the case, either Carlton Gary wasn't the stocking strangler or the stocking strangler didn't rape Ms. Miller.
But that's okay, said the state. You see, Mr. Gary wasn't on trial for raping Ms. Miller so whether it was his semen on her sheets or not, it didn't prove his innocence.
Oh, but then there was that semen sample taken from the sheets of one of the women whom Mr. Gary was convicted of raping and murdering that had never been tested. But in 2010 it turns out that the lab analyst who was tasked with testing the sample to determine if it was a match to Mr. Gary's DNA did something that can only be described as bizarre. Using his own semen as a "control," he smeared it over the sample to be tested -- and the test equipment.
I don't know. Maybe he got off on forensic science and came all over the lab at the mere thought of testing such an important piece of evidence. Or maybe he didn't want it tested for whatever reason. Now I can think of a lot of ways to get around the sticky situation of having a sample that doesn't match the DNA specimen you want it to, but smearing your own semen over the slide is a new one to me.
Prior to that episode, in 2009, when Mr. Gary was first scheduled to be killed, his attorneys sought a court order to test biological evidence from the original trial only to be told by prosecutors that all such evidence had been destroyed because it was a biohazard. But that didn't exactly turn out to be true.
After the "discovery" of the evidence, the state fought tooth and nail to prevent it from being tested. And why might the state object to the testing of evidence? Maybe because they are more interested in maintaining a conviction that seeing to it that justice is done? Maybe because once that floodgate opens, there would be more convictions that could be questioned with DNA testing? Maybe because the courtroom isn't the crucible of the truth that we are taught in civics class.
I could also mention that footprints found outside the window of one of the victims were too small to be Mr. Gary's and that bite mark evidence found on one of the victims didn't match his teeth.
But none of this matters anymore, because the State of Georgia said fuck it, we're killing him anyway -- and so they did.
There is no greater tragedy in our criminal (in)justice system than executing an innocent man. It's happened before. It will happen again. And it very likely just happened in Georgia.