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Execution Date Set for Marcus A. Wellons, Convicted of Raping and Murdering Cobb County Girl

PRESS ADVISORY

Execution Date Set for Marcus A. Wellons, Convicted of Raping and Murdering Cobb County Girl

May 28, 2014

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens offers the following information in the case against Marcus A. Wellons, who is currently scheduled to be executed on June 17, 2014, at 7:00 p.m. for the rape and murder of 15 year old India Roberts.

Scheduled Execution

On May 28, 2014, the Superior Court of Cobb County filed an order setting the seven-day window in which the execution of Marcus A. Wellons may occur to begin at noon, June 17, 2014 and ending seven days later at noon on June 24, 2014. Wellons has concluded his direct appeal proceedings and his state and federal habeas corpus proceedings.

Wellons’ Crime (1989)

The Georgia Supreme Court summarized the facts of the case as follows:

Throughout the summer of 1989, Wellons lived with his girlfriend, Gail Saunders, in her townhouse apartment in Cobb County. Early that summer, Saunders' 14-year-old son Tony also lived in the apartment. Tony and the victim [India Roberts], who lived in a neighboring apartment with her mother, were friends. The victim occasionally visited Tony inside Saunders' apartment, where the two youths would watch television or play Nintendo. Wellons encouraged Tony to date the victim, remarking several times that she was a good looking girl. At some point during the summer, Tony moved to Chattanooga to live with his grandparents. The victim continued to spend time with Saunders occasionally. Saunders described herself as the victim's "play mommy" with whom the victim shared confidences.

Wellons and Saunders had become acquainted at the hospital where both worked, Wellons as a counselor in the psychiatric ward. Wellons moved in with Saunders on the pretense that he owned a home but was unable to occupy it, because an ex-girlfriend had moved there with her two young daughters, and he could not in good conscience turn them out.  Over the summer Wellons proposed marriage to Saunders. However, by then Saunders had become wary of Wellons, who was increasingly hostile and abusive. She verbally accepted his proposal out of fear, all the while seeking an escape from her predicament.

On the evening of August 30, 1989, Saunders told Wellons that their relationship was over and that he must move out of her apartment.  Wellons, who had recently been fired from his job, purchased a one-way ticket to Miami for a flight departing on the evening of August 31. Fearing to be alone with Wellons the night before his departure, Saunders told Wellons that she was going to Chattanooga to spend the night with her parents and enroll Tony in school. Instead, Saunders went to the home of a female friend.

That evening, Wellons began making desperate attempts to reach Saunders by telephone. He called her mother in Chattanooga repeatedly, only to be told that Saunders had not arrived. Wellons then called Saunders' friends, but no one knew or revealed her whereabouts. He called his mother and told her he suspected that Saunders was with another man. Wellons became increasingly angry and began drinking. He ransacked Saunders' apartment. He overturned potted plants and furniture, threw flour onto the floor, and poured bleach over all of Saunders' clothes, carefully sparing his and Tony's belongings in the process.

After the apartment was demolished, Wellons began attempts to cover up his deed. He broke a window, from the inside out, cutting his hand in the process and smearing blood around the apartment. He stacked electronic equipment by the door. He then called 911 at approximately 3:00 a.m. on August 31 to report a burglary. When a police officer arrived, Wellons told the officer that he had come home to find the apartment ransacked, although no items were missing. Wellons explained to the officer that he cut his hand while struggling to uncover a stash of money to determine if it had been taken. Sometime after the officer left, Wellons wrote a racial slur across the wall in Saunders' bedroom.

Several hours later, at approximately 8:00 a.m., the victim said goodbye to her mother and walked from her apartment, past Saunders' door, toward the school bus stop. Shortly thereafter, Saunders' next door neighbor heard muffled screams from inside Saunders' apartment.

The apartment building was close to a wooded area, beyond which was a grocery store. At approximately 2:00 p.m., Wellons approached an acquaintance who was employed at the grocery store and asked to borrow a car. The acquaintance refused. Wellons told the acquaintance that when he (Wellons) returned home the previous night, he encountered two white men who were burglarizing the apartment. Wellons said that he successfully fought off the intruders but explained that he had in the process sustained the injuries to his hand.

About half an hour later, Theodore Cole, a retired military police officer, was driving near the wooded area behind the apartment complex. He spotted in the distance a person carrying what appeared to be a body wrapped in a sheet. He distinctly saw feet dangling from the bottom of the sheet. Cole drove on but then returned for a second look. He drove around in the parking lot of the apartment complex and saw nothing. As he was driving away, however, he saw a man in his rear view mirror walk along the road and throw a sheet into the woods. Cole drove directly to the grocery store, where he called 911. Police officers arrived quickly and began a search of the woods.

The police first discovered sheets, clothing and notebooks bearing Tony's name. Then, upon close inspection of a pile of tree branches near where he had seen the man carrying the sheet, Cole spotted the body of India Roberts. When the branches were removed, the officers discovered that the victim was completely unclothed, with cuts on one side of her face and ear and bruises on her neck.

During the search of the woods, Cole spotted a black man with a bundle under his arm near the apartment building and identified him as the man Cole had seen carrying the sheet. Cole and an officer chased the man, but as they approached the building, the man turned the corner and Cole and the officer heard a door shut. The officer learned from a passerby which apartment was occupied by a man fitting the description given by Cole. He knocked on Saunders' door and announced his presence, but there was no answer. He returned to join the other officers, who were investigating the scene in full force, with helicopters overhead.

Wellons, now trapped inside Saunders' apartment with residual evidence of his crime, gave up his attempt to dispose of the evidence in the woods. He first tried to clean the apartment and his clothes. He then abandoned that project, changed into swim wear, grabbed an old, yellowed newspaper and a cup of wine, partially barricaded and locked the door, and headed for the pool. On his way, Wellons caught sight of a police officer and stopped abruptly. The officer began questioning him. Initially evasive, Wellons did ultimately tell officers that the injuries to his hand, and new scratches to his face, were sustained during a scuffle with two men whom he had caught burglarizing Saunders' apartment.

While investigating the scene, officers had asked Cole whether either of two black males was the man Cole had seen carrying the sheet. Cole immediately ruled out each of the men. Then, while officers were questioning Wellons, one officer standing at a distance from the questioning asked Cole whether Wellons was the man he had seen. Cole said that although Wellons was wearing different clothing from the man he had seen carrying the sheet, and whom he had again seen near the complex, Cole was 75 to 80 percent certain that Wellons was the same man.

Later that day, officers searched Saunders' apartment. Inside, they found numerous items of evidence including the victim's notebooks and earrings. In Tony's room, they discovered the victim's panties. They also found blood on Tony's mattress and box springs. The mattress had been flipped so that the bloody portion was facing downward, and the bed had been remade.

The autopsy revealed that the victim died from manual strangulation, which in itself would have taken several minutes. The autopsy also showed that Wellons had attempted to strangle the victim with a ligature, possibly a telephone cord, and that he had bruised her and cut her face and ear with a sharp object. The evidence suggested that Wellons had dragged or otherwise forcibly moved the victim from the kitchen up the stairs to Tony's bedroom. Finally, the autopsy revealed a vaginal tear and copious amounts of what appeared to be seminal fluid within the victim's vagina. She had defensive wounds to her hands, and her blouse was stained with her own blood.

Wellons v. State, 266 Ga. at 78-81 (1995).

The Trial (1990-1993)

Wellons was indicted in the Superior Court of Cobb County, Georgia on April 5, 1990, for the rape and murder of India Roberts. On June 5, 1993, a jury found Wellons guilty of rape and murder. The jury’s recommendation of a death sentence was returned on June 8, 1993.  

The Direct Appeal (1995-1996)

The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Wellons’ convictions and sentences on November 20, 1995.  Wellons v. State, 266 Ga. 77 (1995).  The United States Supreme Court denied Wellons’ request to appeal on October 7, 1996.  Wellons v. Georgia, 519 U.S. 830 (1996).

State Habeas Corpus Proceedings (1997-2001)

Wellons, represented by Michael McIntyre and Carol Michel, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Superior Court of Butts County, Georgia on May 27, 1997. An evidentiary hearing was held on February 4, 1998. On July 20, 1998, the state habeas corpus court entered an order denying Wellons state habeas relief.  The Georgia Supreme Court denied Wellons’ appeal. The United States Supreme Court denied Wellons’ request to appeal on October 29, 2001.  Wellons v. Turpin, 534 U.S. 1001 (2001).

Federal Habeas Corpus Proceedings (2001-2007)

Wellons, represented by attorneys from the Federal Defender Program, Inc., filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on May 18, 2001. Wellons filed amendments to his petition for writ of habeas corpus on September 30, 2002 and March 19, 2004. On February 20, 2007, the district court denied Wellons federal habeas corpus relief. 

11th Circuit Court of Appeals (2008-2009)

Wellons’ case was appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2008. The case was orally argued before the Eleventh Circuit on July 11, 2008. On January 5, 2009, the Eleventh Circuit denied relief.  Wellons v. Hall, 554 F.3d 923 (11th Cir. 2009). 

United States Supreme Court (2009-2010)

Wellons requested to appeal to the United States Supreme Court on July 31, 2009.  On January 19, 2010, the United States Supreme Court granted Wellons’ petition for writ of certiorari, vacated the judgment of the appellate court and remanded the case to the Eleventh Circuit for further consideration regarding a claim of alleged juror misconduct.

Remand Proceedings (2010-2013)

On April 19, 2010, the Eleventh Circuit remanded the case to the federal district court for further proceedings. Wellons was allowed to conduct extensive discovery on the claim of juror misconduct. Thereafter, the federal district court denied Wellons’ claim of juror misconduct on August 5, 2011. Wellons appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in January of 2012. On September 19, 2012, the Eleventh Circuit denied relief.  Wellons v. Warden, GDCP, 695 F.3d 1202 (11th Cir. 2012).

United States Supreme Court (2013)

Wellons requested to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, which was denied October 7, 2013.  Wellons v. Humphrey, 134 S.Ct. 177 (2013).