An execution date for Brian Keith Terrell has been set for December 8, 2015. Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens offers the following information in the case against Brian Keith Terrell for the 1992 murder of seventy-year-old John Watson.
Brian Keith Terrell’s direct appeal proceedings and his state and federal habeas corpus proceedings have been concluded. Accordingly, on November 23, 2015, the Superior Court of Newton County issued an order setting a seven-day period of time during which the execution of Brian Keith Terrell may take place. The period of time ordered by the Superior Court will last from noon on December 8, 2015, to noon on December 15, 2015. The execution has been set for Tuesday evening, December 8, 2015.
Terrell’s Crime (June 22, 1992)
The Georgia Supreme Court summarized the facts of the case as follows:
The evidence at Terrell’s last trial suggested the following facts. Terrell’s mother was a close friend of the victim, John Watson, and Watson had also been friendly with Terrell. Shortly after being paroled from prison on other charges, Terrell stole ten checks from Watson and began using them, probably with the cooperation of another person. On June 20, 1992, when Watson discovered that his checks had been stolen and learned that Terrell’s name had been signed on some of them, he informed Terrell’s mother and summoned a sheriff’s deputy. Watson gave a report to the deputy; however, he asked the deputy not to pursue the case yet. Watson then agreed with Terrell’s mother not to press charges if Terrell returned a significant portion of the stolen money by the following Monday morning, June 22, 1992.
Terrell and his cousin, Jermaine Johnson, checked into a hotel on Sunday night, June 21, 1992. The next morning, Terrell directed Johnson to drive him to Watson’s house. Terrell got out of the automobile at Watson’s house carrying a pistol. Johnson drove away, and witnesses observed a person, who matched his description in various ways and who was alone, driving around, at a convenience store, and back at the hotel. Johnson drove back to Watson’s house later as Terrell had directed and picked him up along the road in front of the victim’s house. Terrell had Johnson open the hood of the automobile to create the appearance that it had broken down. Terrell still had the pistol, and he told Johnson that he had shot someone. Terrell and Johnson then returned to the hotel, checked out, and went shopping for clothes. Terrell then took his son to the zoo, where he disposed of the pistol. When Watson missed his dialysis appointment, a search began for him at his house.
Evidence found at Watson’s house after he was discovered missing showed that, during the murder, Terrell hid at the corner of Watson’s house waiting for him to come outside to go to his dialysis appointment. Terrell then fired repeatedly at Watson; however, the initial shots all struck the driveway, possibly because Terrell had a defective wrist that caused his hand to point downward when raised. One shot, however, ricocheted up and struck Watson in the back of his thigh. Terrell then reloaded and continued his attack. Terrell overtook Watson, struggled with him, shot him three more times, dragged him across the lawn to a more secluded area, and beat him brutally about the face and head, breaking bones in his jaw, nose, cheek, forehead, and eye socket and knocking out some of his teeth. The beating was so severe that bone penetrated into the victim’s brain.
Evidence in the sentencing phase showed that Terrell had previously participated in a home-invasion robbery against drug dealers at an apartment in DeKalb County in 1990. According to Terrell’s confession in that case, the robbery involved the use of guns, and the female victims were ordered to strip and were bound in a closet while the male victim was placed underneath a sofa. An automobile was also taken in that crime. An officer with the Newton County Sheriff’s Department testified about a separate incident that Terrell had been involved in after his arrest for Watson’s murder. The officer testified that in 1994 in a pre-trial holding cell, Terrell approached him, said that he was going to rape the officer’s daughter, and smiled. Testimony also showed that Terrell set a fire at the Newton County Jail in 1994.
Hall v. Terrell, 285 Ga. 448, 448-450 (2009).
The Trial (2001)
Terrell was indicted in the Superior Court of Newton County, Georgia for one count of malice murder and ten counts of first degree forgery. Terrell’s first trial ended in a mistrial. Terrell’s second trial resulted in a conviction and death sentence; however, the Georgia Supreme Court subsequently reversed the conviction due to an error in jury selection. Terrell’s third trial was held in Walton County on change of venue from Newton County. On February 6, 2001, a jury convicted Terrell as charged in the indictment and recommended a death sentence. Thereafter, Terrell filed a motion for new trial, which was denied on July 23, 2001.
The Direct Appeal (2002-2003)
The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Terrell’s conviction and death sentence on November 12, 2002. Terrell v. State, 276 Ga. 34 (2002). The United States Supreme Court denied Terrell’s request to appeal on October 6, 2003. Terrell v. Georgia, 540 U.S. 835 (2003).
State Habeas Corpus Proceedings (2004-2009)
Terrell, represented by Wystan Getz and attorneys from the Georgia Resource Center, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Superior Court of Butts County, Georgia on August 20, 2004. An evidentiary hearing was held on May 21, 24-25, 2007. On July 17, 2008, the state habeas corpus court entered an order granting Terrell relief as to his death sentence. The State appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, which unanimously reversed the habeas corpus court’s order and reinstated Terrell's death sentence on June 1, 2009. Hall v. Terrell, 285 Ga. 448 (2009).
Federal Habeas Corpus Proceedings (2009-2014)
Terrell, represented by Susan Casey and 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 July 14, 2009. On May 9, 2011, the district court denied Terrell federal habeas corpus relief. Terrell’s case was appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2011. The case was orally argued before the Eleventh Circuit on September 30, 2013. On March 11, 2014, the Eleventh Circuit denied relief. Terrell v. Warden, 744 F.3d 1255 (11th Cir. 2014). Terrell requested to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, which was denied December 1, 2014. Terrell v. Chatman, 135 S. Ct. 726 (2014).