An execution date for Brandon Astor Jones has been set for February 2, 2016. Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens offers the following information in the case against Brandon Astor Jones for the 1979 murder of Roger Tackett.
Brandon Astor Jones’ direct appeal proceedings and his state and federal habeas corpus proceedings have been concluded. Accordingly, on January 13, 2016, the Superior Court of Cobb County issued an order setting a seven-day period of time during which the execution of Brandon Astor Jones may take place. The period of time ordered by the Superior Court will last from noon on February 2, 2016, to noon on February 9, 2016. The execution has been set for Tuesday evening, February 2, 2016.
Jones’ Crime (June 16, 1979)
The Georgia Supreme Court summarized the facts of the case as follows:
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, the evidence showed that the victim, Roger Tackett, was the manager of a Tenneco convenience store. On June 16, 1979, he arrived at the store at 11:20 p.m. to close it for the night. After the other employees left, Tackett remained at the store to complete some paperwork. At approximately 1:45 a.m., Officer Kendall of the Cobb County police department drove a stranded motorist to the Tenneco parking lot so she could use a pay phone. Officer Kendall observed a car (Tackett’s) parked in front of the store with the driver’s-side door open; the lights were also still on inside the store. Since the Tenneco store was in his regular patrol area, Officer Kendall knew that it usually closed at midnight. Suspicious, he walked to the store and saw through the front window Brandon Jones stick his head out of the storeroom door at the back of the store, look around (apparently without seeing the officer), and then close the storeroom door. Officer Kendall entered through the unlocked front door and heard three shots, a pause, and then a fourth shot. He drew his weapon and after shouting “police, come on out” without a response, approached the storeroom door and opened it. Jones and his co-defendant, Van Roosevelt Solomon, were standing just inside the door. Officer Kendall ordered them into the main store area, where he searched them and handcuffed Jones. He placed Solomon in his patrol car since he only had one set of handcuffs, and called for assistance on the radio. He also informed both defendants of their rights under Miranda v. Arizona.
A private security officer, Alex Woolyard, heard Officer Kendall’s request for assistance on a police scanner and arrived first. He loaned Officer Kendall a set of handcuffs to restrain Solomon and watched the defendants while Officer Kendall investigated a van parked nearby. During this time, Woolyard spoke with Jones and determined that the car parked in front of the store did not belong to them; they had arrived in the van. Upon continued questioning by Woolyard, Jones stated that they had come to burglarize the store and found a man who was “bad hurt” in the back of the store. After handcuffing Jones to a metal pole, Woolyard and Officer Kendall entered the store and discovered that the storeroom door had locked when it shut as the defendants exited. They used a crowbar to break open the door and they found Tackett’s body lying face-down at one end of the narrow storeroom (Officer Kendall had not seen the victim when he first encountered the defendants in the storeroom since he did not enter the storeroom at that time). Tackett had been shot five times from behind, once in the jaw, once behind the left ear, once in the thumb, and twice in the right hip. The medical examiner determined that the fatal shot was the “loose contact” shot behind the left ear since that bullet penetrated the brain; this shot was probably the final shot and was fired while the victim was lying on the ground. Two .38 caliber revolvers were found in an open box next to where Officer Kendall had first encountered the defendants. A large Smith and Wesson contained two spent shells; a smaller Colt contained four spent shells. Four .38 caliber bullets were recovered at the scene or in the victim’s body; the ballistics expert determined that all were probably fired by the Colt. Crime scene photographs also show a possible bullet hole in a shelf on the wall, indicating a fifth shot may have been fired in the storeroom. An atomic absorption test conducted on swabs of the defendants’ hands indicated that both men had recently fired a gun or handled a recently-fired gun. The store’s cash drawer was found moved from its original place inside the store and wrapped in a plastic bag. Inside the van, which belonged to Solomon, the police discovered burglary tools, holsters that fit the revolvers and .38 caliber bullets.
Jones v. State, 273 Ga. 231, 231-233 (2000).
The Trial (1997-2000)
Jones was indicted in the Superior Court of Cobb County, Georgia for malice murder. Jones was originally convicted and sentenced to death on October 11, 1979; however, his death sentence was subsequently vacated by the district court due to trial court error in allowing a Bible in the jury deliberation room. Jones v. Kemp, 706 F.Supp. 1534 (N.D. Ga. 1989). Jones’ resentencing trial was conducted on September 10-23, 1997, and Jones was resentenced to death. Thereafter, Jones filed a motion for new trial, which was denied on January 11, 2000.
The Direct Appeal (2000-2001)
The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Jones’ death sentence on November 20, 2000. Jones v. State, 273 Ga. 231 (2000). The United States Supreme Court denied Jones’ request to appeal on October 1, 2001. Jones v. Georgia, 534 U.S. 839 (2001).
State Habeas Corpus Proceedings (2002-2008)
Jones, represented by attorneys from the Georgia Resource Center and McDermott, Will & Emery, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Superior Court of Butts County, Georgia on February 7, 2002. An evidentiary hearing was held on August 31 – September 1, 2004. On March 20, 2006, the state habeas corpus court entered an order denying Jones state habeas relief. The Georgia Supreme Court denied Jones’ appeal on September 23, 2008.
Federal Habeas Corpus Proceedings (2009-2015)
Jones, represented by attorneys from the Federal Defender Program and McDermott, Will & Emery, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on May 8, 2009. On August 10, 2011, the district court denied Jones federal habeas corpus relief. Thereafter, Jones’ case was appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The case was orally argued before the Eleventh Circuit on December 12, 2013. On March 20, 2014, the Eleventh Circuit denied relief. Jones v. Warden, 753 F.3d 1171 (11th Cir. 2014). The United States Supreme Court denied Jones’ request to appeal on October 5, 2015. Jones v. Chatman, 136 S. Ct. 43 (2015).