According to court documents Warren McCleskey and accomplices would rob a furniture store. The silent alarm was hit without their knowledge and when Officer Frank Schlatt showed up he would be fatally shot
Warren McCleskey would be arrested, convicted and sentenced to death
Warren McCleskey would be executed by way of the electric chair on September 25 1991
Warren McCleskey Photos
Warren McCleskey Case
Warren McCleskey, whose two unsuccessful appeals to the United States Supreme Court helped define death penalty law, was executed this morning after an all-night spasm of legal proceedings that played out like a caricature of the issues his case came to symbolize.
Warren McCleskey, a black, 44-year old factory worker who was convicted of killing a white police officer here during an attempted robbery in 1978, was electrocuted at the state prison in Jackson, Ga., after a series of stays issued by a Federal judge was lifted.
But when he died, after declining a last meal and after being strapped into the chair at one point and then unstrapped three minutes later, his execution added a final chapter to his odyssey through the courts.
In a final legal scramble, the Supreme Court twice refused a stay — once at about 10 P.M. on Tuesday, after a state court denied last-minute appeals, and then just before 3 A.M. today, after a similar appeal was rejected by lower Federal courts. The Court’s 6-to-3 decisions came after the Justices were polled by telephone. A ‘Chaotic’ Appeals Process
Five minutes later, after Warren McCleskey had been strapped into the electric chair, electrodes attached to his skull and a final prayer read, prison officials were told the Supreme Court had rejected a final stay. A minute later the execution began, and he was pronounced dead at 3:13.
A spokesman for the Georgia Department of Pardons and Paroles described the process, which began with the parole board’s denial of a clemency petition on Tuesday, as “chaotic.”
Justice Thurgood Marshall of the Supreme Court, who was one of three dissenters in the Court’s decision not to halt the execution, was considerably more stinging in his dissent.
Justice Marshall, who will retire when his successor is confirmed by the Senate, wrote: “In refusing to grant a stay to review fully McCleskey’s claims, the Court values expediency over human life. Repeatedly denying Warren McCleskey his constitutional rights is unacceptable. Executing him is inexcusable.”
But state officials said Warren McCleskey’s final appeals were typical of the seemingly endless litigation a landmark Supreme Court ruling on his second appeal was intended to stop. Clemency Petition Rejected
On Tuesday morning the five-member Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles turned down Mr. McCleskey’s clemency petition, apparently closing off the last obstacle to an execution. In Georgia, only the board has the authority to commute a death sentence. The board acted despite statements from two jurors that information improperly withheld at the trial tainted their sentence, and that they no longer supported an execution.
Warren McCleskey’s execution was initially scheduled for 7 P.M. Tuesday, but shortly before that Federal District Judge J. Owen Forrester agreed to stay the execution, first until 7:30, then until 10 and then until midnight, to hear a last-minute appeal filed in three different courts.
Judge Forrester denied the appeal after a hearing ended around 11:20 P.M., but he stayed the execution until 2 o’clock this morning to allow lawyers to appeal it. At 2:17 A.M. Mr. McCleskey was into the electric chair, only to be taken away three minutes later when officials learned the High Court was still pondering a stay.
He was placed back in the chair at 2:53 A.M. under the assumption that no news from the Court meant the execution was still on. Word that the Court had denied a stay came just as the execution was ready to begin at 3:04. Two Landmark Rulings
Warren McCleskey, who filed repeated appeals over the 13 years between his conviction and his death and has had a long succession of lawyers, produced two landmark rulings in death penalty law
In 1987, in the last major challenge to the constitutionality of the death penalty, the Supreme Court voted, 5 to 4, that the death penalty was legal despite statistics showing that those who kill white people are far more frequently sentenced to die than are those who kill blacks.
Last April the Court voted, 6 to 3, that Mr. McCleskey’s claim that his sentence was tainted by information withheld from the jury should be rejected because he failed to make the claim on his first habeas corpus petition. In doing so, the Court spelled out strict new guidelines that sharply curtailed the ability of death row inmates and other state prisoners to pursue multiple Federal court appeals.
Mr. McCleskey was the 155th person to be executed since the Supreme Court cleared the way in 1976 for states to resume capital punishment.
Mr. McCleskey admitted to being one of four men involved in a robbery in which Officer Frank Schlatt was killed, but he denied being the one who shot him. None of the other men received the death sentence.
Before the execution he apologized to Officer Schlatt’s family for taking part in the attempted robberry, asked his own family not to be bitter about his death, professed his religious beliefs and decried the use of the death penalty. He neither confessed to being the gunman nor did he say he was innocent of the killing
“I pray that one day this country, supposedly a civilized society, will abolish barbaric acts such as the death penalty,” he said. ’13 Years too Say Goodbye’
Officer Schlatt’s daughter said the execution renewed her faith in the justice system.
“I feel for his family, but he’s had 13 years to say goodbye to his family and to make peace with God,” said Jodie Schlatt Swanner. “I never got to say goodbye to my father. This has nothing to do with vengence. It has to do with justice.”
But Mr. McCleskey’s supporters, who held demonstrations here and in Washington, said Mr. McCleskey’s case from beginning to end was a potent argument against the death penalty as it is used in the United States.
“Ten years ago the idea that we would execute someone in violation of the Constitution was so abhorrent no one could imagine it happening,” said Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, which does legal work for the poor. “Now, as a result of the Rehnquist Court, what we’re seeing and what we’re going to see in case after case is people going to the execution chamber in cases in which the jury did not know fundamental things about the case.”
The case against Mr. McCleskey was largely circumstantial. Testimony came from one of the other robbers, who named Mr. McCleskey as the gunman, and from another prisoner, Offie Evans who told jurors Mr. McCleskey had confessed to him in jail.
Jurors were not told that Mr. Evans was a police informer who was led to believe that his sentence would be shortened if he produced incriminating evidence against Mr. McCleskey. His lawyers learned of Mr. Evans’s ties to the police after the trial through documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act