Death Penalty

Georgia Intends to Execute This Man, Whether or Not He Pulled the Trigger

A DNA test might show that he didn't fire the shot that killed a clerk in 1994. But the law says he'd be guilty anyway.


The State of Georgia plans to execute Ray Jefferson Cromartie, 52, at the end of the month. DNA evidence might prove that another man pulled the trigger, but the authorities have refused to do the tests to find out.

That's because Cromartie participated in the robbery that led to a man's death, making him a party to the crime. Under State Code 16-2-20, Georgia still considers him responsible for the murder, even if he didn't actually fire the shot.

Cromartie was convicted of the 1994 death of store clerk Richard Slysz in Thomasville. Cromartie and another man, Corey Clark, encountered Slysz when they robbed a Junior Food Store. During the robbery, Slysz was shot twice in the head, once under his right eye and once in his left temple. After Slysz was shot, Cromartie and Clark attempted to rob the cash register. When they couldn't access the money, they stole beer.

Clark testified for the state, saying that Cromartie fired the fatal shots that evening. Cromartie maintains that he was not the shooter.

Cromartie was also convicted of shooting a store clerk a few days prior. The attorney general's office wrote in a statement that the security camera's video was "too indistinct to conclusively identify Cromartie" but "captured a man fitting Cromartie's general description."

Cromartie's lawyers have asked for the evidence in both cases to be DNA tested. But last month Superior Court Judge Frank Horkan, who sentenced Cromartie to death in 1997, denied their motion for DNA tests and a new trial. Horkan argued that the "proposed DNA results would not create a reasonable probability of an acquittal or of different verdict(s) in light of evidence in the case."

Horkan also declared that Cromartie had plenty of time during his years on death row to request the tests, accusing him of waiting "until all other avenues were closed."

Shawn Nolan, Cromartie's lawyer, still wants the tests. "Forensic DNA testing is essential to the pursuit of the truth and justice and to prevent the potential execution of an innocent man," he told the Times-Enterprise. "The state has the evidence in its possession; all we need to do is test it. We will appeal to other decision-makers to continue to seek DNA testing in order to get these vital questions answered before it's too late."