An execution date for Joshua Daniel Bishop has been set for March 31, 2016. Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens offers the following information in the case against Joshua Daniel Bishop for the 1994 murder of Leverett Morrison.
Joshua Daniel Bishop’s direct appeal proceedings and his state and federal habeas corpus proceedings have been concluded. Accordingly, on March 11, 2016, the Superior Court of Baldwin County issued an order setting a seven-day period of time during which the execution of Joshua Daniel Bishop may take place. The period of time ordered by the Superior Court will last from noon on March 31, 2016, to noon on April 7, 2016. The execution has been set for Thursday evening, March 31, 2016.
Bishop’s Crime (June 25, 1994)
The basic facts surrounding the murder were set forth by the Georgia Supreme Court on direct appeal:
[Leverett] Morrison drove Bishop and Bishop’s co-indictee, Mark Braxley, to a bar. Bishop and Braxley decided to steal Morrison’s car. The three left the bar around 11:00 p.m. and drove to Braxley’s trailer. Bishop reached into the sleeping Morrison’s pocket for the car keys, but Morrison awoke and sat up. Bishop began to beat Morrison about the head and face with a blunt object. When Morrison was unconscious, Bishop took the car keys. Eventually realizing that Morrison was dead, Bishop and Braxley wrapped and then loaded the body into the back seat of Morrison's car. They drove to a dumpster which was located a short distance from Braxley’s trailer. After unsuccessfully attempting to toss Morrison's body into the dumpster, Bishop and Braxley left the body on the ground where it was discovered several hours later. They drove Morrison’s car into the nearby woods, set it on fire, and then walked back to Braxley’s trailer to dispose of evidence of their crimes. After his arrest, Bishop made a statement in which he admitted delivering the blows with a wooden rod until Morrison stopped breathing, and described how he and Braxley disposed of the body and burned the car. Bishop subsequently confessed that, some two weeks prior to the murder of Morrison, he participated in the murder of Ricky Lee Wills and that he buried Wills’ body in the woods near Braxley’s trailer. After investigators recovered Wills’ body, a grand jury indicted Bishop and Braxley for that murder as well. The trial court admitted evidence regarding Bishop’s participation in Wills’ murder in aggravation of punishment during the penalty phase of this trial for Morrison’s murder.
Bishop v. State, 268 Ga. 286, 486, S.E.2d 887, 891 (1997).
Although both Bishop and Braxley initially denied any involvement in the murder of Morrison, Bishop later confessed in a statement given to Detective Ricky Horn. In his statement, which was audiotaped and played by the State for the jury, Bishop explained at considerable length the events culminating in the beating and murder of Morrison on the night of June 24, 1994. Bishop, Braxley, and Morrison had been drinking through the afternoon and had smoked crack later that evening. That night, Braxley suggested that Bishop take the keys to Morrison's Jeep; Morrison was lying in bed at the time. According to Bishop, when he reached into Morrison’s pocket, Morrison “popped [him] and asked [him] what [he] was doing.” Bishop then hit Morrison with a wooden stick that “was like a closet rod.” In Bishop’s words, he used “[o]ne of them big heavy closet rods.” Bishop explained, “I hit him too hard, I reckon, and he didn’t say anything. He just wouldn't breathe.” At one point in his statement Bishop said that he hit Morrison on the backside of his head “about twice” and Braxley hit him “about three times,” but later, Bishop claimed, “I hit [Morrison] like three times in the head with that stick, just to see the first time if I could knock him out where I could get his keys. But he wouldn't knock out. I hit him one more time and finally, he looked like he was knocked out.”
According to Bishop, he then exited the room, but left the key to Morrison's Jeep on a coffee table. Bishop added that, while he was outside the room, he “heard something loud.” He elaborated: “When I went back in there after I left the key on the coffee table, I walked back there and saw that [Morrison] was dead. I saw we were messing up pretty bad. He wasn’t breathing. I checked him out and he wasn’t breathing. He was dead.” Bishop explained that he and Braxley then wrapped Morrison in a comforter and placed his body in the back seat of the Jeep, and that they tried unsuccessfully to put Morrison’s body in a dumpster but ended up leaving the body between two dumpsters. At Braxley’s suggestion, Bishop took the Jeep to a nearby pond, poured gasoline all over it, and lit it on fire, destroying all but the frame of the vehicle.
Finally, Dr. James Dawson testified regarding Morrison’s injuries and cause of death. He determined that Morrison died in the early morning hours of June 25, 1994, as a result of inner cranial bleeding, with contributing factors of a cerebral contusion and aspiration of blood, all caused by blunt force trauma to the head. Dr. Dawson confirmed that Morrison was beaten to death. Several of Morrison’s seven significant head wounds appeared to have been caused by a cylindrical, circular, or tubular object, while other wounds appeared to have been caused by a flat object. Dr. Dawson could not state the order in which the seven injuries took place, nor could he state whether the first blow, the seventh blow, any of the blows in between, or any combination of the blows caused the cerebral contusion (bruising of the brain) or the hemorrhage resulting in inner cranial bleeding and ultimately death; finally, the medical examiner confirmed that all seven injuries occurred while Morrison was alive.
Bishop v. GDCP Warden, 726 F.3d 1243, 1247-1249 (2013).
The Trial and Direct Appeal (1996-1998)
On February 8, 1996, following a jury trial, Bishop was convicted of malice murder and armed robbery. The jury’s recommendation of a death sentence was returned on February 12, 1996. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Bishop’s convictions and death sentence on July 16, 1997. Bishop v. State, 268 Ga. 286 (1997). The United States Supreme Court denied Bishop’s request to appeal on February 23, 1998. Bishop v. Georgia, 522 U.S. 1119 (1998), rehearing denied, Bishop v. Georgia, 523 U.S. 1089 (1998).
State Habeas Corpus Proceedings (1998-2007)
Bishop filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Superior Court of Butts County, Georgia on August 31, 1998. An evidentiary hearing was held on April 22-23, 2002. On March 17, 2006, the state habeas corpus court entered an order denying Bishop state habeas relief. The Georgia Supreme Court denied Bishop’s appeal on October 9, 2007.
Federal Habeas Corpus Proceedings (2008-2014)
Bishop filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia on March 28, 2008. On May 4, 2010, the district court denied Bishop federal habeas relief. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s denial of relief on August 8, 2013. Bishop v. GDCP Warden, 726 F.3d 1243 (11th Cir. 2013). The United States Supreme Court denied Bishop’s request to appeal on October 6, 2014. Bishop v. Humphrey, 135 S. Ct. 67 (2014).