THOMASVILLE — The judge who presided at a Thomas County 1997 death penalty trial has denied the convicted defendant's motion for a new trial and DNA testing.
Superior Court Judge Frank Horkan pronounced a death sentence on Ray Jefferson Cromartie, then a Thomasville resident, in September 1997, when the 30-year-old defendant was found guilty of murdering a convenience store clerk during an 1994 armed robbery.
After more than two decades on Georgia's death row and exhaustion of years of appeals to the state's and nation's highest courts, Cromartie's execution was imminent when a lawyer filed an extraordinary motion for a new trial and for post-conviction DNA testing.
The motion, filed Dec. 28, 2018, in Thomas County Superior Court, also wants DNA testing performed on evidence in another case in which Cromartie was convicted — shooting a convenience store clerk who survived.
The motion requests DNA testing of evidence in the shooting death of Richard Slysz, a clerk at a West Jackson Street convenience store, as well as the aggravated battery of Dan Wilson at a North Madison Street convenience store.
Cromartie also was found guilty in the Wilson case.
“The daughter of the victim in this case has publicly asked for DNA testing to occur, as have hundreds of members of the Thomasville community," said Shawn Nolan, chief, Capital Habeas Unit, Federal Community Defender Office, in response to the denial.. "Forensic DNA testing is essential to the pursuit of the truth and justice and to prevent the potential execution of an innocent man. The state has the evidence in its possession; all we need to do is test it. We will appeal to other decision-makers to continue to seek DNA testing in order to get these vital questions answered before it's too late.”
Co-conspirators each received 25-year prison sentences for robbery. Before the 1997 trial, the then-district attorney offered Cromartie a plea deal to life in prison with the possibility of parole, which, at that time, would have resulted in parole eligibility after seven years.
In Cromartie's most recent appeal efforts, in January and in March 2018, a panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals denied his appeals. On Dec. 3, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request to review the lower court's rulings.
Horkan's order — filed Monday in Thomas County Superior Court — states the court determines the defendant failed to establish necessary requirements to obtain requested DNA testing.
Evidence is overwhelming proving Cromartie was the shooter at the Madison Street Deli where an employed was injured and the Junior Food Store on West Jackson Street where the clerk was murdered, the document states.
"Given the tenuous link between the clothing and the crimes, the court finds defendant's proposed DNA results would not create a reasonable probability of an acquittal or of different verdict(s) in light of evidence in the case," Horkan wrote in his order.
Cromartie avoided the risk of pre-trial DNA testing on some items that might implicate him in the crimes and waited until now to request the testing, the order stated.
"At no point, as admitted by defendant, in the 24 years since he committed his crimes has he requested DNA testing," Horkan wrote. "So far, the only reason offered by defendant to excuse the delay in bringing this action are that: he has been busy litigating his state and federal habeas petitions; and the DNA testing methods he is requesting only became available in recent years.
" ... In sum, defendant sat on his request until all other avenues were closed," the order continued. "And there is nothing in the record showing that defendant was precluded from requesting DNA testing in what could be considered a timely manner considering the facts and circumstances of this case."
Southern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Brad Shealy said if the state Supreme Court affirms Judge Horkan's decision, the state can move forward with Cromartie's execution.
"I think it's clear Cromartie is guilty of what he was convicted of," Shealy said.
Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1820