Death Penalty

Georgia Has Executed a Death Row Inmate Without DNA Testing the Evidence

The daughter of the murder victim has accused the state of ignoring her wishes.

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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."

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  1. Sometimes shit happens. And you can usually tell when it’s going to happen to you.

  2. Legette wanted answers as to why her father was killed? Answers regarding her fathers death?

    Two assholes killed your dad while trying to rob him. And they were so inept that the couldn’t even get the cash register open–so they just stole some beer as your dad’s body lay cooling on the floor.

    There’s the answer.

    Your dad died because two shitheads killed him.

    Now shut the fuck up.

    1. Why should she shut up? It was her father, not yours, and definitely not the state´s.

    2. It sounds like you were there. Maybe the police should question you?

      1. Because ‘maybe the other guy did the shooting’ is exactly the same as ‘we have no idea how this man died’. Imperfect knowledge is exactly the same as no knowledge. Well, at any rate I can understand why the distinction would elude you since you have neither.

    3. One “shithead”, just one! Let’s be clear on that.

      1. Actually two.

        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.

        Actually, not. You have two shitheads guilty of murder. One rolls on the other and gets a better deal. The guy who got rolled on is just sorry that he didn’t roll on the other guy first.

        That’s what happens when you go to commit a crime and someone in your group kills someone. Everyone in the group is guilty. If one gets a benefit from providing information, too bad for the schmucks who tried to cover up their criminal involvement. He gets the needle. The only tragedy here is that it took 25 years.

    4. “Your dad died because two shitheads killed him”

      And if Cromartie wasn’t one of those shitheads?
      Are you really that cool with letting the state kill people?
      Do police, prosecutors and judges really shine that brightly in your world?

      1. The state doesn’t kill people.

        Juries impose death sentences. The state is then required to carry out the will of the people.

        Cromartie WAS definitely one of those shitheads, BTW–his advocates here are just suggesting that he may not have pulled the trigger while he and his friend were robbing the store.

        The man is dead because Cromartie and his buddies decided to rob the store.

        1. Just makes me wonder how many times throughout your pathetic life you have gotten upset because you were blamed for something you didn’t do! Like that time in fourth grade, you remember right?

      2. They got the right two guys. The only dispute is which pulled the trigger. That’s irrelevant under the law to the extent that both were part of a criminal enterprise that resulted in a death. One guy got a better deal by testifying. That’s all.

        Ironically, if the two had tried to rob the store and the store owner had killed one of them, the remaining robber would have been charged with felony murder because the criminal enterprise resulted in a death. If the two thugs had just gone into a store, displayed a weapon and the store owner had died of a heart attack – that’s felony murder too.

        The moral of the story is: Don’t commit felonies.

        1. Giving out the death penalty for anything other than intentional murder is all right with you?

          ” If the two thugs had just gone into a store, displayed a weapon and the store owner had died of a heart attack – that’s felony murder too.”

          If you ran a traffic light and the driver you hit died of a heart attack – should that be felony murder too? Should you be executed?
          Do you not see how wrong this is?

  3. The DNA test would not have cast doubt on guilt.

    1. Then there should have been no harm to test the DNA

  4. 25 years?
    Seriously, 25 years and just recently they’ve asked for DNA testing?
    Based on the guy’s half-brother’s testimony decades later?

    BTW: It still doesn’t change the fact that three dirtbags intended to commit a robbery, and one of them decided to add murder to the charges.

  5. I oppose the death penalty (even though there are those who clearly deserve it), but this wasn’t the hill to die on. Least of all on the claim that DNA was going to alter the facts of the case.

    1. https://www.freerodneyreed.com

      This one may be a more worthy hill.

      The original suspect in the case was Stites’ fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, a brutal police officer with a history of violence against women. After the murder of Stacey Stites, Fennell kidnapped a woman and sexually assaulted her while on duty as a police officer. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for this. Despite sworn affidavits from witnesses establishing that Jimmy Fennell threatened to kill Stites before, and that he has subsequently confessed to the crime, and compelling expert testimony establishing Reed’s innocence, all requests to evaluate new evidence have been unsuccessful.

      1. You commented on the wrong story.

        And in the case mentioned, she died with Reed’s sperm inside her. Reed had also raped multiple other women, including a 12 year old girl. He used the “it was consensual” defense in these cases multiple times. This is despite the fact that there was no evidence of their relationship. The police finally just tried him on the woman who he murdered as well.

  6. 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.

    Prosecutors and the criminal justice system in general aren’t there to speak for the victims. They are there to get convictions to advance their careers and to maintain the system. If they continue to allow death row convictions to be questioned then the system suffers from a lack of faith and everything breaks down.

    Having said that, Cromartie did participate in a violent crime and while I don’t agree with the death penalty in any case, he was guilty of that.

    1. If they continue to allow death row convictions to be questioned then the system suffers from a lack of faith and everything breaks down.

      That ship has passed. Now that we’re finding out most forensic “science” besides DNA testing is nothing but garbage, a lot of people have lost faith in the system.

      I don’t believe that there is any justice in the U.S. courts. It’s corruption an plain evil all the way up and all the way down.

      1. …a lot of people have lost faith in the system.

        Not nearly enough.

  7. 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.

    And ultimately this absurdity is precisely the preferred outcome for those who are ok as long as somebody pays. Who view capital punishment as mainly a deterrent. That is precisely the intent of that sort of law – to deter others from participating in an armed robbery. And interestingly this specific issue – the execution of someone innocent who is deemed guilty – is the source of CS Lewis’ famous quote:

    My contention is that good men (not bad men) consistently acting upon that position would act as cruelly and unjustly as the greatest tyrants. They might in some respects act even worse. Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth.

    1. That both deserve to die for their crime should not inhibit the execution of either single criminal.

  8. Oh no! Not without testing the DNA!

    Seriously, does anybody here at Reason actually understand how DNA evidence is used in a criminal case, or what it can be used to establish?

    There have now been several articles about Cromartie published and not a single one of them bothered to explore the issue of what it is the DNA evidence was expected to establish and, assuming it established what was intended, whether that evidence would have been in any manner exculpatory.

    1. Don’t you watch CSI Wichita (or any of the other variants)? DNA evidence is always available and always points to the real killer.

      1. And it only takes three minutes to process.

    2. What is the DNA evidence? The two walked in, one shot the clerk, they stole a case of beer and walked out. What was the DNA evidence on? How would it point to one as the shooter and not the other? This belief in the magical nature of DNA evidence is mushy thinking.

  9. 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.

    Exactly so. The DNA test would not have cleared Cromartie even if it showed he wasn’t the shooter. So I presume Georgia officials considered the results would be irrelevant, and that’s why they didn’t want to conduct the test. Still, the victim’s daughter wanted the test done, and part of treating her with “fairness, dignity, and respect” should have been allowing that to happen. Will they release the DNA now and let her have it tested, now that it can no longer cause pressure to stop the execution?

    1. Or, free market/income opportunity, allow third party access to the evidence to do private testing!

    2. I think the significance of the DNA evidence has been overblown.

      https://drive.google.com/file/d/1IF5q8Rd7vYaRGABiTsUTfBlqWR2QoYlQ/view

    3. The DNA test would not have cleared Cromartie even if it showed he wasn’t the shooter.

      No. In fact it would presumably have cleared him of being the shooter. Which would put the state into the position of defending the ‘good’ of executing a man who is not actually guilty of the crime. Well-intentioned people do not want to be put into that position. So rather than allow themselves to be put into that position, they prefer not allowing evidence that would allow a defendant to clear themselves of their direct association with a crime.

      So in future, they can now do what you recommend – allow DNA testing in any and all situations only after the defendant is executed. The execution itself must proceed or the whole edifice of deterrence will fall.

      1. //In fact it would presumably have cleared him of being the shooter.//

        I think you should read the brief, linked to above.

        1. I read up to the part where it says – ‘no physical evidence ever links Cromartie to the gun’. I don’t know if that’s true – but that is exactly the sort of thing that DNA could test now that it couldn’t then. The amount needed would be the amount of DNA left on the fingerprints which didn’t match anyone.

          The only legitimate reason for the state to deny such a request is to preserve a tiny amount of DNA for future request – to avoid entirely ‘getting rid of evidence’. That rationale disappears on the last appeal before execution.

          1. The Georgia SC review I linked relays the facts before the trial court, including custody of the gun. Cromartie was attempting a hail mary legally speaking. And the ball wasn’t anywhere near the endzone.

            1. Brett Favre – 80+ yard Hail Mary– Favre evades a tackle, pass bounces off one receivers helmet and caught by the second WR for a touchdown.

              1. Kordell Stewart – 65 yd Hail Mary – Miracle at Michigan – tipped twice before caught in endzone.

              2. Well the way this was played was more like Cal’s return against Stanford. Except the band made a tackle.

                1. I don’t remember an execution in that game

                  1. True, on that play, Stanford

                    [dons sunglasses]

                    failed to execute.

                    1. Ray Cromartie: So you’re saying…there’s a chance?!?

          2. If no physical evidence links Cromartie to the gun, why would DNA evidence help? Assuming this is true, he was already convicted in spite of that fact.

            1. This wouldn’t be about guilt v innocence but about execution v life in prison. Apparently there were fingerprints on the gun but they were smudged/etc. Very different jury dynamic when the interpretation of evidence changes from:
              people say they saw him with the gun and fingerprints are inconclusive vs
              people say they saw him with the gun and the fingerprints exclude him from having touched the gun

              Obviously they still have a law that says he’s co-guilty simply cuz he participated in the robbery. But even the possibility that a DNA test would move from the first of those to the second is sufficient to prove, at minimum, extraordinarily embarrassing if the state still insists on execution merely because they have the power to do that. And that’s a perfectly reasonable limit to apply to any state execution.

              1. I don’t think that was the issue with the evidence. The DNA testing would not have clarified anything about any fingerprints.

                1. If there was a few picograms of skin cell on any fingerprint, then it very easily could have done just that.

                  1. An absence of Cromartie’s DNA on the gun would not have proved that Cromartie didn’t shoot the clerk. The presence of someone else’s DNA on the gun would not prove that Cromartie didn’t shoot the clerk. The presence of someone else’s DNA would not prove that someone other than Cromartie shot the clerk.

                    The problem is that DNA is just one piece of evidence; it is not a supreme form of evidence that automatically outweighs all other evidence. In most cases, it isn’t even good evidence. DNA evidence needs to be interpreted and is often very, very inconclusive.

                    Moreover, “touch” DNA is almost never used to prosecute anyone because it is a highly unreliable method and it is unreliable precisely because of the tiny thresholds that it is dealing with. Finding one skin cell on a gun doesn’t prove that someone fired that gun; not finding a skin cell doesn’t mean the person didn’t shoot the gun.

                    Proving something beyond a reasonable doubt does not place a burden on prosecutors to erase every conceivable doubt under the sun.

                    1. Then the result would remain — inconclusive. Or of course maybe prove that Cromartie did handle that gun.

                      The point being that denying the defense even the opportunity for them to test the evidence – when the evidence itself becomes absolutely useless post-execution – is nothing more than preventing potential embarrassment for the state/prosecutors. And that is no reason for the state to deny the defense its chance of keeping defendant from being killed by the state.

                    2. Testing could never prove absence of his DNA

                      It could on report presence or lack of detection.

                      If I check you for a pulse, and fail to detect one does that make it ok to place your head in a plastic bag?

                    1. //Then the result would remain — inconclusive. Or of course maybe prove that Cromartie did handle that gun.

                      The point being that denying the defense even the opportunity for them to test the evidence – when the evidence itself becomes absolutely useless post-execution – is nothing more than preventing potential embarrassment for the state/prosecutors.//

                      The standard to overturn a conviction is “actual innocence.” The burden is on the convicted individual. If, at best, we are looking at “inconclusive,” that would not come anywhere near proving actual innocence. That is, even if the defense was able to obtain and reliably test the touch DNA, it would not have proved Cromartie’s innocence – even in the best case scenario.

                      Given the state of touch DNA analysis at the present moment, it would have been impossible to prove actual innocence. All that would have been achieved is more delay – which, in my view, was probably the entire point.

              2. JFree. Let’s look at both extremes.

                Lets say that the test proves either of the three men we know were involved had held the gun. That proves nothing. We knew they were in the car with the gun, and that at least one, and likely more than one of them handled the gun before and after the crime. That’s a waste of time.

                Now, let’s say the test comes back negative. Well, it’s been a long time and they might have cleaned the gun.

                What if it comes back with some unknown party’s DNA. Does that tell us anything? Not really. It could have gotten contaminated by someone over the decades, the DNA could belong to the dealer, or even a family member. A negative would not change the verdict.

                So, that’s an exhaustive list. None of the possible answers can hope to change the verdict.

                All ambient DNA can tell us is that someone was present. We don’t need DNA to tell us that. We already know who was present. We have a video of the murder.

                Please explain what the DNA could say. Give some logical argument that any result would change the verdict.

  10. I am getting sick and tired of hearing about poor Cromartie.
    First of all, while Legette was a victim in a manner of speaking, the true victim is DEAD. Killed by one of two men that everyone agrees were the ones involved. So “victim’s rights” are somewhat irrelevant here. And just because the courts didn’t agree with her, doesn’t mean she wasn’t treated with respect.
    Second of all, what DNA did they want tested? I keep asking this question and I can’t find any answers. Unless they are arguing that Cromartie wasn’t even involved, what would that prove???
    Third, there was evidence that Cromartie (not Clark) borrowed the .25 the day of the first robbery that was used in both this robbery (the clerk was shot but did not die) and the second one in which Slysz died..

    1. This lays out what they wanted tested and, frankly, it seems like a complete stretch based on heaps of speculation and wishful inferences.

      https://drive.google.com/file/d/1IF5q8Rd7vYaRGABiTsUTfBlqWR2QoYlQ/view

  11. opposed to state-sponsored killing.

    1. If not for the government’s monopoly on retributive violence the asshole would’ve been executed 25 years ago, and along with his accomplices.

      1. probably. i’m more okay with that.

    2. Amen. The state has enough power as it is. No need to give it the LEGAL ability to kill citizens as well.

  12. They did test for DNA. His semen and saliva was found on the victim, the latter being on her breast. The defense against his DNA was he was dating her, but having saliva remain on the breasts didnt agree with his defense that they hooked up the day before. Semen can stay internal for more than 24 hours, touch DNA or saliva generally washes off a body through natural excretions.

    The DNA testing being asked for is touch DNA on the murder weapon. The DA has already stated the murder weapon was handled in court by multiple people. Touch DNA did not exist then as it does now, so there were no proper procedures in place to preserve items. A touch DNA analysis would have yielded a lot of third party DNA due to how evidence was handled, in a common manner, at the court.

    Did Reason stop gathering information right after reading a few celebrity tweets or something?

    The suspect also had been convicted and was under suspicion of multiple other rapes at the time.

    1. Whoops. wrong case. Thought we were still bleating on about the rape dna case. Apologies.

      1. You’d make a great prosecutor. A candidate for future R pol. Hang em high. Let God sort em out.

        1. You’d make a great amoral sack of subhuman shit. Oh hey look, you already are.

      2. I was thinking, “Wait, Cromartie shot the clerk and then fucked him?

        Now I’m a little disappointed…

        1. No, there have just been multiple of these articles, both death penalty cases concerning cases in which additional DNA testing is being demanded, but rejected. Both of them use extremely sketchy logical leaps to call the lack of DNA testing a travesty of justice when neither DNA test could show doubt on who did the murder no matter what the result.

  13. The people of Georgia, and those in this country who believe in fairness, justice and compassion, deserve better.”

    I could not agree more. We should have executed this asshole 25 years ago. We probably blew 1MM (40K/year for 25 years) just keeping his convict ass alive. Fuck that.

    The problem we have with the death penalty is we do not apply it quickly enough.

    1. Sure! Let’s allow EVEN LESS time for appeals and discovering police misconduct that leads innocent people to death row! That would be such a great improvement!

      1. Considering he was guilty of malice murder, as well as a long string of priors….I’m thinking that Georgia ‘off-ed’ a guilty convict. The world is now a better place without him.

  14. Massachusetts had a man in prison for murder. Our former Governor Deval Patrick – now considering a quixotic run for President – supported the lovely gentleman, and signed on to get a DNA test for the poor innocent brother. Test was done, DNA was his.

    Wait …. I thought DNA always proved innocence!

    1. That is the other possibility most people are not considering.

      And, in that case, does the state get any recompense? Maybe a more brutal execution as payback for housing, clothing, and feeding a murderer who has been lying about his guilt for decades?

      1. >>does the state get any recompense

        dude?

        1. Quite simple, actually. We’re out 2K for the DNA test. Can we kill the guilty SOB quicker, or something? Maybe use Old Sparky instead of the needle?

          1. i’m in if a juror who sentences death has to knowingly push the button.

        2. Is it really so unreasonable?

          A convicted murderer on death row spends decades frivolously appealing his conviction and his sentence with full knowledge that he is completely guilty and, at last, after hundreds of court appearances, filings, and briefings, his defense team is permitted to proceed with a DNA test he insisted would exonerate him but, instead, it ends up conclusively proving his guilt. That is, the murderer deliberately abused the judicial process to save his own ass for as long as possible and cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

          Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

          1. can’t argue from your perspective. “the judicial process” he’s supposedly abusing to save his own ass maybe put him in the position … from the perspective of the system-types …

            you should have said “do the People get any recompense” … “state” triggered me lol

    2. But that’s not a bad thing. DNA supporting the conviction erased doubt and weaker evidence. Being more certain is always a good thing if there’s any doubt, even if it points to more certainty for guilt.

      1. The doubt has to be reasonable. The truth is that nearly everyone sentenced to death committed the crime for which they were sentenced. Something like 96%. The rate of error will only continue to drop as technology improves, but that doesn’t mean you need all the available technology in order to convict someone. Most of these last ditch “but the DNA!” appeals are completely frivolous.

  15. Three people committed an inept robbery. Someone was killed. The three people point fingers at each other.

    Am I supposed to exonerate all of them simply because they blame each other?

    That seems logically absurd.

    1. If you can’t prove which one is telling the truth, yes you should not convict anyone for the actual shooting and instead just apply the felony murder rule to all of them. That’s not the same as letting them off.

  16. “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.”

    So, the complaint here is that the other guy isn’t being executed?

    By the standard legal reasoning in many states, if you are party to a crime which could reasonably be anticipated to lead to a death, and a death does happen, you’re a murderer, even if you’re not the one who pulled the trigger.

    So, yeah, there is an injustice here, but it’s not the execution, it’s the non-execution.

  17. I’m opposed to the death penalty, but I’m not shedding a tear over this human trash. He and his accomplices deserve to die in a cage while being slowly poisoned by ChooseMyPlate.gov.

  18. Two questions about this reporting.

    1. If not him, who was in the video?

    2. Exactly how could DNA prove his innocence?

    1. Not quite sure about the answer to the video. However, having read his lawyers’ brief and done some research on the issue of touch-transfer DNA, it doesn’t seem like the tests would have cleared Cromartie of anything, especially 25 years after the fact.

      https://www.forbes.com/sites/marinamedvin/2018/09/20/framed-by-your-own-cells-how-dna-evidence-imprisons-the-innocent/#13216d9a4b86

  19. The particulars of this case are not particularly compelling, except to the extent it is an example of capital punishment. There was no relative miscarriage of justice unless the death penalty in all cases is unjust, but that’s a whole different argument.

    First, DNA would not exonerate this guy. He was, by law, as guilty as his partner in the murder of the clerk. It has been established beyond a reasonable doubt that he was one of the two robbers. It may seem somehow unfair that one of the pair was rewarded for testifying against the other, but this method is something that has existed since the origins of common law. Were it to be necessary to prove exactly which individual among a group of robbers physically pulled the trigger (or swung the bludgeon or swung the knife, etc.), those cases where it was established beyond a reasonable doubt that both people engaged in an illegal act that had the foreseen likelihood of murder, all they would have to do was to point the finger at each other (unless there was HD video of the actual act, a situation basically impossible until recently and even unlikely now) and neither would pay for the murder.

  20. Why didn’t Ms. Legette start a campaign to spare Cromartie’s life years ago?

    1. The only dispute is which pulled the trigger. That’s irrelevant under the law to the extent that both were part of a criminal enterprise that resulted in a death. One guy got a better deal by testifying. That’s all.

      Ironically, if the two had tried to rob the store and the store owner had killed one of them, the remaining robber would have been charged with felony murder because the criminal enterprise resulted in a death. If the two thugs had just gone into a store, displayed a weapon and the store owner had died of a heart attack – that’s felony murder too.

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