The machinery of death was in high gear in the South in May. Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida each killed a man, and Alabama executed two.
Georgia began the month by executing Scotty Garnell Morrow on May 2 for the 1994 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Barbara Ann Young, and her friend, Tonya Woods. He was also convicted of shooting a third woman, LaToya Horne, who survived. Morrow, who apologized to the friends and family members of the victims in his last statement, had his spiritual advisor, an imam, with him in the death chamber. His was Georgia’s first execution this year.
Alabama executed two prisoners, both of whom were teenagers at the time of their alleged crimes. And both had suffered severe physical and sexual abuse as children.
Michael Samra was 19 when he confessed to helping Mark Duke kill his father, Randy Duke, Duke’s fiancee Dedra Mims Hunt, and her two young daughters, Chelsea Marie and Chelisa Nicole Hunt, in 1997. Both Samra and Duke, who was 16 at the time of the murders, were sentenced to death, but Duke’s death sentence was commuted in 2005, after the Supreme Court found in Roper v. Simmons that it was unconstitutional to execute a defendant who was younger than 18 at the time of the crime. According to AL.com, Samra’s lawyers had argued in a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court that “evolving standards of decency” called for a ban on the execution of defendants who were under the age of 21 at the time of their crimes, but the Court declined to review his case.
Christopher Lee Price was also 19 when he was charged in the 1991 murder of pastor Bill Lynn in the course of a home robbery. He was sentenced to death by a vote of 10-2 in 1993. According to CBS News, his execution was delayed while state officials waited for a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on a request for a stay Price’s lawyers had filed. They argued that Price had a federal lawsuit pending challenging the state’s lethal injection protocol which was scheduled to be heard this month but, over the objections of Justice Stephen Breyer, the court voted 5-4 to allow the execution to proceed.
Price’s last words were “A man is much more than his worst mistake,” according to CBS News.
Florida executed 65-year-old Bobby Joe Long for the murder of Michelle Denise Simms in 1984. Long had confessed to killing 10 women and raping dozens of others over an eight-month period in 1984, but ultimately pleaded guilty to killing eight women, and in 1985, was sentenced to death for Simms’ murder.
Finally, Tennessee executed Don Johnson for the murder of his wife, Connie, in 1984. Johnson was a very different man from the one who walked onto death row all those years ago. He became a Seventh Day Adventist, and was ordained by that church as a deacon because of the ministry work he had done with other condemned prisoners. Church officials and members, as well as Johnson’s stepdaughter, had asked the state to spare his life.
Nevertheless, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee who, according to the Times Free Press, was elected last year after a “campaign that centered on his religious faith,” refused to grant clemency to Johnson in spite of his conversion and his good works in prison.
The day before he was killed, Johnson released a letter in which he wrote, “I truly regret my life and what I became in the process. I will continue to carry the pain of all the grief that I have caused others to endure.”
Johnson’s execution is the first of four Tennessee is planning for this year. Last year, after a nine-year hiatus, the state killed three prisoners.