ATLANTA, Ga. — A judge is temporarily delaying the execution for Georgia man who was scheduled to be executed Tuesday for killing 8-year-old Cobb County girl.
Virgil Delano Presnell Jr., was set to be executed after being denied clemency in a last-ditch effort by his lawyers Monday.
His attorney argued to the state Board of Pardons that he should be spared due to “significant cognitive impairments” and an abusive childhood, according to reports from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The killer’s attorney said these things may have contributed to his crimes nearly five decades ago.
The clemency hearing for Presnell’s, now 68 years old, started at 9 a.m. Monday before the State Board of Pardons and Paroles panel. After 9 hours, the panel denied parole for Presnell, the AJC reported.
The newspaper then learned late Monday night, that a judge sided with attorneys for the Federal Defender Program, who successfully argued the state’s decision to execute Presnell violated an agreement with the state attorney general’s office postponing most executions until after the COVID-19 pandemic.
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In May of 1976, Presnell kidnapped two Cobb County girls on as they walked home from Russell Elementary School. He raped the 10-year-old and then drowned her 8-year-old friend in a nearby creek when she tried to run.
Presnell was sentenced to death later that year, and again in 1999 after his first sentence was overturned, according to the AJC.
In a clemency request submitted to the parole board, Presnell’s attorney, Monet Brewerton-Palmer, asked that his scheduled execution be delayed three months and ultimately commuted to life without parole.
The 51-page filing suggests Presnell has severe brain damage from his mother’s heavy drinking while she was pregnant. His lawyer also said that he was raised in an abusive and unstable environment, and sexual abuse was ongoing in Presnell’s family, according to reports from the AJC.
The filing also talks about Presnell’s time on death row, during which he was routinely raped and beaten at two state prisons.
Brewerton-Palmer said his client served “enough time” and “a hard time.”
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“His crime was the worst of the worst — and so has his sentence been,” said Brewerton-Palmer.
According to AJC reports, the lawyer said Presnell is “deeply and profoundly sorry” for the pain he caused his victims and their families and wishes he could “take it all back.”
The former U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden, who was Cobb’s district attorney at the time said the kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Lori Ann Smith shocked the South Cobb community. He said as long as the death penalty remains in the state of Georgia, Presnell should get it, according to AJC reports.
“This was an egregious case and there was never any real doubt about the evidence,” Darden said, noting that life without parole was not an option during Presnell’s initial sentencing.
The AJC reported that in spite of the abuse he endured during his 46 years on death row, Presnell has a “spotless disciplinary history and has been a model prisoner,” his attorney argued.
He was 22 when he was convicted, but now he is a “quiet, simple old man with a developmental disability who adores his son and his sister,” Brewerton-Palmer said.
“Executing him after all this time would serve no purpose, and would bring more pain to more innocent people,” she wrote in the clemency request. “It would also be wholly contrary to the ideals of a civilized society to execute someone so profoundly disabled.”
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