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Ga. death row inmate executed

Carlton Michael Gary Executed for Murder

ATLANTA, GA - The lawfully ordered execution of Carlton Michael Gary for the 1977 rape and murder of Florence Scheible, Martha Thurmond and Kathleen Woodruff was carried out Thursday evening (March 15) at 10:33 p.m. at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center in Jackson, Georgia. The sentence was carried out after the United States Supreme Court denied Gary’s request for a stay of execution.    

Gary’s Crimes (1977-1978)

The United States District Court summarized the facts of the crime as follows:

Between the fall of 1977 and spring of 1978, terror gripped the historic Wynnton neighborhood in Columbus, Georgia. Targeting elderly white women, an assailant sexually assaulted nine women, killing seven of them and leaving stockings around their necks as his calling card. Labeled the "stocking strangler" by the local news media, the assailant suddenly ceased his activities in the Wynnton area in 1978 and eluded authorities for six years.

These crimes remained unsolved until 1984 when a pistol that was stolen from a home in the Wynnton area in October 1977 was linked to [Gary]. [Gary] was arrested on May 3, 1984 for this burglary. After acknowledging his Miranda rights, [Gary] confessed that he was present at the burglary and that he was either present at, or had knowledge of, eight of the nine 1977-78 Wynnton area rapes and murders. [Gary] stated that he burglarized these women’s homes while an individual named Malvin A. Crittenden committed the rapes and murders. The authorities found no corroborating evidence linking Crittenden to the crimes.

[Gary]’s fingerprints were ultimately found to match the latent prints found at four of the crime scenes. Blood evidence and hair samples taken from the crime scenes were inconclusive--they did not establish [Gary] as the perpetrator, nor did they exclude [Gary].

An investigation into [Gary]’s background revealed his connection to similar crimes in the past. Specifically, on April 14, 1970, the body of eighty-five year old Nellie Farmer was found in her residence in Albany, New York. She had been raped, strangled, and her body was covered. A fingerprint taken at the scene matched [Gary’s]. When arrested and confronted with this evidence, [Gary] claimed that he was at the crime scene, but an individual by the name of John Lee Mitchell actually raped and killed Mrs. Farmer. Mr. Mitchell was acquitted of these charges.

On January 2, 1977, fifty-five year old Jean Frost was attacked and raped during a burglary of her home in Syracuse, New York. One of the items taken during the burglary was her watch. When [Gary] was taken into custody two days later, he had the watch in his pocket. [Gary] confessed to being the "lookout" for the Frost burglary. He claimed that an individual named Dudley Harris committed the attack and rape. Mr. Harris was not convicted for the crimes.

Regarding the Columbus "stocking strangler" crimes, [Gary] was indicted for raping, murdering, and burglarizing the homes of three of the nine victims -- Ruth Schieble, Martha Thurmond, and Kathleen Woodruff. At trial, the Prosecution introduced evidence of the attacks on the other "stocking strangler" victims, claiming that they showed a similar pattern and were also committed by [Gary]. The evidence presented by the Prosecution to show a similar pattern included the following. All of the victims were elderly white women between the ages of 55 and 89. Each of the victims lived alone. In each crime, the assailant broke into the woman’s home and burglarized her residence. With the exception of one, all of the crimes happened at night. All of the elderly women were sexually assaulted. All of the attacks involved ligature strangulation, usually with the victim’s stockings or pantyhose. With the exception of only one attack, all of the attacks occurred in the Wynnton area of Columbus, Georgia. Every deceased victim had been either partially or totally covered after the attack.

The evidence at trial showed that Mrs. Schieble was raped, beaten, and strangled to death with a stocking on October 21, 1977. She was eighty-nine years old at the time, legally blind, and could walk only with the aid of a walker. Mrs. Schieble’s son and his wife discovered her lifeless, covered body on October 21, 1977. Martha Thurmond’s body was discovered on October 25, 1977.

Her body was covered by a pillow, blankets, and sheets. The evidence showed that Mrs. Thurmond was sexually assaulted, beaten, and strangled with a stocking.

On December 28, 1977, the body of seventy-four year old Kathleen Woodruff was discovered, partially covered, and lying on her bed. Mrs. Woodruff had been raped and strangled with a scarf.

The similar crimes evidence showed that Gertrude Miller was attacked on September 11, 1977. She was raped and severely beaten. Knotted stockings, similar to the ones used to strangle the other victims, were found at the scene. Mrs. Miller survived the attack and identified [Gary] as her assailant.

The body of fifty-eight year old Mary "Fern" Jackson was discovered on September 16, 1977. Her body was covered and she had been beaten and raped. Mrs. Jackson was strangled to death with a stocking and a sash from a dressing gown.

Seventy-one year old Jean Dimenstein was raped and strangled to death with a stocking in her home on September 24, 1977. Her body was covered with sheets and a pillow.

On February 11, 1978, police responded to a call and found Mrs. Ruth Schwob sitting on the edge of her bed with a stocking tied around her neck. Mrs. Schwob never identified [Gary] as her assailant. Although she survived the February 11, 1978 assault, she died before [Gary] was charged and tried. On February 12, 1978, the body of seventy-eight year old Mildred Borom was found lying in a hallway of her home. She was lying on her back with her face covered. Mrs. Borom had been strangled with a venetian blind cord. She also had been raped.

On April 19, 1978, sixty-one year old Janet Cofer’s body was found lying in her bed covered with linen and with a pillow over her face. Mrs. Cofer had been raped and strangled with a stocking. Although Mrs. Cofer did not reside in the Wynnton area of Columbus (as all of the other victims did), she had attended choir practice at the Wynnton Methodist Church on the evening of her murder.

Gary v. Schofield, 336 F.Supp.2d 1337, 1341-1343 (M.D. Ga. 2004) (internal citations and footnotes omitted).

The Trial (1984-1986)

Gary was indicted in the Superior Court of Muscogee County, Georgia on May 4, 1984 for three counts of malice murder, three counts of rape and three counts of burglary. Gary was convicted as charged in the indictment and was sentenced to death on all three counts of murder on August 27, 1986. Thereafter, Gary filed a motion for new trial, which was denied on October 18, 1986.

The Remand Proceedings (1987-1989)

Gary appealed his convictions and sentences to the Georgia Supreme Court. On June 26, 1987, the Georgia Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court for a hearing on whether Gary was denied the effective assistance of counsel. Gary was represented by new counsel during the remand proceedings, and a hearing was held on November 12 and 16, 1987. On June 12, 1989, the trial court held that Gary “actively rejected the assistance of counsel appointed by this court” and that “as to those issues addressed during the hearing on remand that the defendant knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waived those issues after having been repeatedly advised by the court that his conduct would amount to such a waiver." (Trial Court Remand Order, p. 27).

The Direct Appeal (1990-1991)

Gary’s case was again appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Gary’s convictions and sentences on March 6, 1990. Gary v. State, 260 Ga. 38 (1990). The United States Supreme Court denied Gary’s request to appeal on October 1, 1990. Gary v. Georgia, 498 U.S. 881 (1990), rehearing denied, Gary v. Georgia, 498 U.S. 1043 (1991).

State Habeas Corpus Proceedings (1991-1997)

Gary filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Superior Court of Butts County, Georgia on January 11, 1991. An evidentiary hearing was held on January 30-31, 1995. On November 13, 1995, the state habeas corpus court entered an order denying Gary state habeas relief. The Georgia Supreme Court denied Gary’s appeal on October 7, 1996. The United States Supreme Court denied Gary’s request to appeal on May 27, 1997. Gary v. Turpin, 520 U.S. 1244 (1997), rehearing denied Gary v. Turpin, 521 U.S. 1137 (1997).

Federal Habeas Corpus Proceedings (1997-2009)

Gary filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia on November 18, 1997. The district court conducted evidentiary hearings on issues raised by Gary regarding serological evidence and a bite mark exemplar. On September 28, 2004, the district court denied Gary federal habeas relief. Gary v. Hall, 336 F. Supp. 2d 1337 (2004). After federal habeas relief was denied, but while Gary’s case was on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the coroner of Muscogee County located the missing bite mark exemplar. As a result, Gary’s case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings on the bite mark exemplar. On May 30, 2007, following an evidentiary hearing, the district court reaffirmed its earlier decision denying Gary federal habeas relief. Gary v. Schofield, 493 F. Supp. 2d 1255 (2007). The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s denial of relief on February 12, 2009. Gary v. Hall, 558 F.3d 1229 (11th Cir. 2009). The United States Supreme Court denied Gary’s request to appeal on November 30, 2009. Gary v. Hall, 558 U.S. 1052 (2009).

Extraordinary Motion for New Trial (2009-2018)

Gary’s execution was originally set for December 16, 2009. On December 7, 2009, after thirty-one years in prison and with his execution nine days away, Gary sought post-conviction DNA testing pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 5-5-41. The Georgia Supreme Court entered an order on December 16, 2009, remanding the case to the trial court to determine whether Gary was entitled to DNA testing. Extensive testing was performed during the extraordinary motion for new trial proceedings, which revealed a positive DNA match between Gary and one of the victims Jean Dimenstein. In addition to the extensive testing, three evidentiary hearings were held in the trial court. On September 1, 2017, the trial court denied Gary’s extraordinary motion for new trial. Gary’s appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court  was denied on December 1, 2017, and his motion for reconsideration was denied on January 16, 2018.