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Information on the Execution of Byron Ashley Parker

PRESS ADVISORY

Information on the Execution of Byron Ashley Parker

December 12, 2001

Georgia Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker offers the following information on the execution of Byron Ashley Parker.

Execution

On November 27, 2001, the Superior Court of Douglas County filed an execution order, setting the seven-day window in which the execution of Byron Ashley Parker may occur to open at noon, December 11, 2001, and close at noon, December 18, 2001. The Commissioner of the Department of Corrections scheduled Parker’s execution to take place at 7:00pm on December 11, 2001. Parker had concluded his direct appeal from his Douglas County criminal case as well as one state and one federal habeas corpus case. The scheduled execution of Parker was carried out at approximately 7:26pm on Tuesday, December 11, 2001.

Parker’s Crimes

Bryon Ashley Parker was sentenced to death for the malice murder of Christy Ann Griffith in Douglas County on or about June 1, 1984. On direct appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court found the following facts: The 11-year-old victim in this case disappeared on June 1, 1984. Foul play was soon suspected. Law enforcement officers questioned a number of persons residing in the trailer park where the victim had lived -- including Parker, who was questioned on June 5, and again on June 6. He signed a consent-to-search form on June 6. Officers searched Parker’s house on June 6, but found nothing relating to any possible criminal activity except for a small amount of marijuana.

Because Parker’s statements regarding his whereabouts at the time the victim disappeared were not entirely consistent, and because the investigators learned that Parker had earlier been charged in an incident involving a young girl in Florida, they began to focus their attention on Parker as a suspect. Parker was asked if he would be willing to take a polygraph examination the next day (June 7). Although Parker assented to the test, he failed to show up for the examination.

Parker had been convicted earlier on felony charges and was placed on probation in Fulton County on May 15, 1984. The probation was transferred to Douglas County that day, and he was scheduled to meet with his assigned Douglas County probation officer on June 1. He failed to appear then, but he did meet his probation officer on June 5, and asked for permission to leave the state.

After Parker failed to appear for the polygraph examination on the morning of June 7, two warrants were issued for his arrest; one charged him with the misdemeanor offense of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, and the other was for a violation of the terms and conditions of his probation in that he “failed to appear as directed to the Douglas County Probation Office.”

Parker was arrested on these warrants. After talking further with law enforcement officers, he told them he would take a polygraph examination, provided that he was allowed to talk to his attorney beforehand.

Parker had called an attorney prior to his arrest and had made arrangements to meet him that day. Now Parker called him again, and the attorney met him at the FBI Atlanta office, where the examination was to take place.

The attorney (who did not represent the defendant at trial) testified that he told Parker that Parker could not be required to take the test, but Parker answered that if he did not, his probation would be revoked and he would be “put in jail for five years . . . on that marijuana charge.” The attorney testified he then talked to the sheriff who “indicated” to him that if “Parker could clear himself at that particular time with this polygraph test, . . . he could go on home.”

The attorney testified that he discussed the situation with Parker, who adamantly denied any involvement in the disappearance of the girl. They agreed, then, that Parker should go ahead and take the examination.

As the attorney left, he indicated “to them that I was not going to sit in on this, I would be at my home, and as soon as this is completed for someone to call me.”

The sheriff confirmed that he had discussed the marijuana warrant with the attorney. He testified he had told the attorney, “I can’t promise you anything, . . . but if this young man passes the test . . . I’ll go to the district attorney and ask him, you know, explain to him the situation and ask him to cause the warrant to be dismissed.” He denied discussing the probation warrant and denied threatening Parker with five years of prison if he refused to take the examination. He explained that the probation warrant was issued from another county, and that it was for failing to appear according to the terms and conditions of his probation, and that the sheriff therefore had no control over that situation.

Parker took the polygraph examination. The examiner wanted to conduct another test before he could come to any final conclusions, but the examiner did tell the sheriff that, not withstanding his answers, Parker knew where the body was. [Footnote omitted].

Parker was returned to Douglas County. He talked briefly to a couple of law enforcement officers, and then Parker was allowed to talk to his mother and two sisters, for about half an hour. Afterwards, he was again given Miranda warnings and the interrogation resumed.

The sheriff testified that, in accordance with the attorney’s request, he and Parker attempted to call the attorney, at his office and at his home. He testified: “[Parker] tried, you know, one or more times. I tried several times because Parker was being interviewed, and I did not reach [the attorney] until after I had discovered the remains of [the victim]. So it could have been 2:00 or 3:00 o’clock in the morning, but I had tried up to near midnight at both numbers and failed to reach him.” The state asked the sheriff whether the attorney had ever asked or directed the sheriff to refrain from talking to Parker. The sheriff answered that he had not.

At approximately midnight, Parker admitted responsibility for the victim’s disappearance, and agreed to reveal the location of the body. He drew a map, which law enforcement officers used to find the body. Afterwards, Parker was interrogated again; this time the confession was tape-recorded.

Parker v. State, 256 Ga. 543-45, 350 S.E.2d 570 (1986).

The Trial

Parker was indicted by the Douglas County grand jury on July 17, 1984, for the malice murder, rape and kidnapping of Christy Ann Griffith. At a jury trial on November 5-9, 1984, Parker was found guilty of murder and rape, and a judgment of nolle prosequi was entered on the kidnapping count. The jury found the existence of three statutory aggravating circumstances: one O.C.G.A. § 17-10-30(b)(7) circumstance and two (b)(2) circumstances, i.e., the murder was committed during the commission of the capital felonies of kidnapping with bodily injury and rape, and fixed the sentence for murder as death. The trial court imposed a consecutive life sentence for rape. On appeal the Georgia Supreme Court adjudicated some issues but remanded the case for further proceedings on the admissibility of Parker’s custodial statements. Parker v. State, 255 Ga. 167, 336 S.E.2d 242 (1985). After the remand, the state appellate court affirmed the murder conviction and death sentence, but set aside the rape conviction because the trial court erroneously declined to charge on child molestation as a lesser included offense. Parker v. State, 256 Ga. 543, 350 S.E.2d 570 (1986), cert. denied, 480 U.S. 940, reh’g denied 481 U.S. 1060 (1987). The death sentence was affirmed based upon the (b)(2) kidnapping with bodily injury aggravating circumstance, while the other two circumstances were set aside: the (b)(7) due to instructional error and the (b)(2) based on rape since the rape conviction itself was reversed. Id. at 551.

The State Habeas Corpus Case

Parker filed a habeas corpus petition in Butts County Superior Court on July 24, 1987, and subsequently amended the petition while he also pursued a freedom of information act request in Washington, D.C., for documents from the F.B.I. Evidentiary hearings were held on March 26, 1990; May 21, 1990; July 19, 1990; and March 9, 1992. Relief was denied on May 5, 1995, in an unpublished order. The Georgia Supreme Court denied Parker’s application for certificate of probable cause to appeal on May 24, 1996. Certiorari was denied on December 16, 1996. Parker v. Zant, 519 U.S. 1043 (1996).

The Federal Habeas Corpus Case

On November 15, 1996, Parker filed a federal habeas corpus petition in the United States District Court, Northern District of Georgia. On August 13, 1999, the district court denied relief. Parker was granted permission to appeal on six issues, but he pursued only four in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The briefing schedule was stayed pending decision by the United States Supreme Court on a particular issue. In an opinion entered March 15, 2001, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of relief. Parker v. Head, 244 F.3d 831 (11th Cir. 2001). Rehearing was denied on May 31, 2001. Parker v. Head, 260 F.3d 628 (11th Cir. 2001). The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari on November 26, 2001..