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Georgia's death row in 2016: The killers and those they killed

The state leads the nation in executions this year


Georgia’s stepped-up pace has thrust the state into the lead, surpassing even Texas — which on the whole has carried out almost eight times as many executions as Georgia since the death penalty was reinstated four decades ago: Georgia has killed 68 prisoners; Texas has killed 538.

For the most part, the reason Georgia is using its death chamber more frequently is because a large number of inmates have simply exhausted their appeals. Also, the legal issues that had been a barrier in recent years — the use of lethal injection drugs, which ones the state uses, and Georgia’s secrecy law — have been resolved.  

There are 59 men on Georgia’s death row.  

Following are the eight men executed in 2016, plus the prisoner slated to be this year’s ninth execution. 


Brandon Astor Jones (Feb. 3)

Brandon Astor Jones was the oldest man on Georgia’s death row when he was executed for murdering Roger Tackett, a convenience store manager.  

Jones and Roosevelt Solomon were already in the store when a police officer pulled up at the Cobb County Tenneco station just after midnight on June 17, 1979. The lights were on past the closing time, which raised the officer’s suspicions. Just as the policeman looked through a store window, Jones peeked out of the storeroom. There were four shots. The officer found Jones and Solomon still inside, and Tackett dead on the storeroom floor. Solomon was electrocuted in 1985. Jones was executed more than 30 years later, at age 72.  

Final words: None. 

 Victim: Roger Tackett was 37 when he was gunned down. Before working at the Tenneco convenience store, Tackett had taught Russian, French and Latin at Georgia Southern College, and taught languages at a metro Atlanta private school. When the program at the private school was eliminated, Tackett took a job pumping gas, making more money than he had as a teacher. On the night he was killed, Tackett had stayed late to finish paperwork so he could spend Father’s Day with his 7-year-old daughter. 


Travis Hittson (Feb. 17)

Travis Hittson was a 21-year-old Navy seaman on an aircraft carrier based in Pensacola when he and two buddies traveled to Middle Georgia for a weekend. Chief Petty Officer Edward Vollmer, Hittson and shipmate Conway Utterbeck planned to stay at Vollmer’s parents’ home while they were away.  

They spent that Saturday afternoon in April 1992 drinking at the Vollmer house, then Hittson and Vollmer decided to hit a local bar. Utterbeck stayed behind. It was on the drive back that Hittson and Vollmer decided to murder Utterbeck. Hittson beat Utterbeck with a bat and shot him. Then they dismembered him, burying Utterbeck’s torso in Houston County and taking the rest of his body parts to Pensacola. Vollmer pleaded guilty in exchange for a life sentence with the possibility of parole. Hittson went to trial and was sentenced to die. He was 45 when executed.  

Final words: “No, sir, I’m alright.”  

Victim: Conway Utterbeck was stationed aboard the USS Forrestal in Pensacola when he met Hittson and Vollmer on his job assignment. According to court records he was murdered only because Vollmer convinced Hittson that Utterbeck had a hit list and they were on it. Utterbeck was asleep in a recliner when the two men came home and attacked him. Utterbeck asked “why?” as he pleaded for his life.  

Initially, Navy officials just made note of Utterbeck’s unauthorized absence. They opened an investigation only after Utterbeck’s mother called because she had not heard from her son in a month. Six weeks after the murder, a logger in Houston County found Utterbeck’s torso. 


Joshua Bishop (March 31)

 Joshua Bishop was 19 when he used a curtain rod to beat to death Leverette Morrison during a struggle for keys to Morrison’s jeep. Once Bishop was in custody, Baldwin County investigators learned he had also killed another man two weeks earlier, Ricky Lee Wills, because Wills bragged about a sexual encounter with Bishop’s mother. His advocates said Bishop had a hard life as a child: he was physically and sexually abused, was his mother’s drinking buddy, and was always searching for his father. Bishop was 41 when executed.  

Final words: “I apologize to the people of Baldwin County and to the Morrison family. I’d also like to thank all the people who stood by me.”  

Victim: Leverette Morrison might have been Bishop’s uncle. No one knows for sure. In answer to her son’s repeated questions about his father, Bishop’s mother named Morrison’s brother, Albert Ray Morrison, as one of three possibilities. “I don’t really know for sure,” Albert Morrison wrote in Bishop’s clemency petition. “His mama, Carolyn, went with a lot of men, including me and Leverette.”  


Kenneth Fults (April 12)

Kenneth Fults was jealous and had been on a weeklong crime spree in January 1996. His goal was to steal a gun so he could kill his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. He broke into the trailer of his next-door neighbor in the hope of finding one. Cathy Bounds’ was home alone, her live-in boyfriend having just left for work moments earlier. Fults wrapped 6 feet of electrical tape around Bounds’ eyes, put her face-down on a bed, placed a pillow over the back of her head and fired five times. Fults pleaded guilty to murder, but still claimed he was in a trance-like state when he did it. Fults was 47 when he was executed.  

Final words: “Amen.”  

Victim: Cathy Bounds, 19, was about to begin her day when Fults entered her home, wearing gloves and a hat pulled over his eyes. Bounds begged for her life, offering him the rings on her fingers. He responded by shooting her with a stolen .22-caliber handgun.  


Daniel Anthony Lucas (April 27)

 Daniel Lucas was 19 when he and another teenager murdered a father and his two children. Until that day, his lawyers said, Lucas was controlled by his drug addiction, his parents’ drinking, and frequent abuse and neglect. Lucas teamed up with Brandon Rhode to burglarize the Jones County house one April afternoon. When 11-year-old Bryan Moss came home from school and spied the two men, he armed himself with a baseball bat to defend his home. He was soon shot. When his 15-year-old sister came home, she was bound to a chair and eventually shot too. Moments later, their father, a truck driver, came home and was shot. Once Lucas and Rhode were caught, Lucas confessed. His advocates said he was sorry for his crime. By the time he was executed at age 37, he practiced Buddhism, his advocates said.  

Final words: “To the Moss family, I’m sorry for Mrs. Moss. And to family and friends, I love them. All beings are basically good, all beings are basically kind, all beings are basically strong, all beings are basically wise.” 

Victims: Bryan, Kristin and Steven Moss were killed in their own home on April 23, 1998. The day he was murdered, Bryan was supposed to play with a neighborhood friend after putting away his things. At 15, Kristin was in high school and a normal teenage girl. Their father, 37-year-old Steven Moss, had the day off. So he had lunch in Macon with his wife — who found her family dead when she got home from work. 


John Conner (July 15)

 John Conner had been on death row for 34 years by the time he was executed for murdering a drinking buddy. His lawyers said Conner learned to be violent from his father. Even before the murder that landed him on death row, he had killed another friend. On Jan. 9, 1982, Conner and his buddy J.T. White spent the evening at a party but wanted to continue drinking at Conner’s house in Telfair County. On the walk to Conner’s place, Conner attacked White with a quart bottle and an oak tree branch. Before skipping town, Conner went back to make sure White was dead. Conner’s girlfriend told investigators he walked into the woods and moments later she heard a thud. Conner then told her he was sure White was dead. Conner took up painting while on death row. He was 60 when executed.  

Final statement: None.  

Victim: J.T. White was 29 when murdered. White, Conner and Conner’s girlfriend, Beverly Bates, had been to a party in Eastman, where they drank and smoked marijuana. Witnesses said there was no tension between the men. But that changed later when White told Conner he wanted to have sex with Bates. 


Gregory Lawler (Oct. 19)

 Gregory Lawler had a master’s degree in business from Emory University but was earning a living assembling furniture when he murdered Atlanta policeman John “Rick” Sowa and critically wounded policewoman Pat Cocciolone in October 1997. Neighbors told investigators they gave Lawler a wide berth. He drank heavily and yelled often at his girlfriend, neighborhood children, and even his battered gray Ford Escort when he worked on it. Lawler lived with his girlfriend near the intersections of Piedmont Avenue and Lindbergh Road. After killing Sowa, Lawler engaged in a standoff with police for about six hours. He surrendered after he cut his hair, shaved and changed clothes. He was 63 when executed.  

Final words: None.  

Victim: Atlanta police officer John "Rick" Sowa was 28 when he and his partner, Pat Cocciolone, walked an intoxicated woman to her front door and were shot. Cocciolone was critically wounded but was able to call for help as Sowa lay dead. The nightmare began when Sowa and Cocciolone were dispatched to investigate a report of a man hitting a woman. They found Lawler and his drunk girlfriend, Donna Rogers, behind a Midtown Atlanta store. Since Lawler had left the scene to walk home, Sowa and Cocciolone decided to drive Rogers to the apartment she shared with Lawler rather than arrest her. Within moments of speaking to Lawler at the apartment door, the officers were running for their lives as Lawler fired at them with a high-powered rifle loaded with armor-piercing bullets. Cocciolone survived but is disabled. 


Steven Spears (Nov. 16)

 Steven Spears never denied he murdered his ex-girlfriend. He told investigators everything after he was picked up walking to town to turn himself in for Sherri Holland’s murder, having hid in the woods for 10 days. Spears said he had warned Holland when they started dating in 1999 that he would kill her if she ever left him for someone else. Other than an automatic appeal in early 2015, Spears flatly rejected any legal attempt to spare his life. He was 54 when executed.  

Final words: None  

Victim: Sherri Holland was a 34-year-old single mother and a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector who worked at a ConAgra Food plant, which is where she met Spears. She and Spears dated about three years, even though he threatened her and her family. Relatives said she stayed in the relationship because she was trying to protect them from Spears. On the weekend she was murdered, Holland was scheduled to go on her first date in almost a year since she and Spears broke up.  


William Sallie (scheduled for Dec. 6)

 William Sallie, at age 40, could be the ninth man Georgia executes this year. When he and his wife separated in December 1989, she moved out and took their 2-year-old son to live with her parents in rural Bacon County. Soon after, under the pretense of visiting his son, Sallie took the boy to Illinois, where he stayed until a judge ordered him to return Ryan to his mother. Before returning to Georgia, Sallie had a friend in Illinois buy him a gun. And in Liberty County, Ga., Sallie rented a mobile home under an assumed name. Around 10 p.m. on March, 28, 1990, Sallie went to the house of John and Linda Moore, ripped out the telephone wire, and waited. Almost three hours later, as the Moore family, Sallie’s estranged wife, Robin, and their son slept, Sallie pried open the back door. He shot John Moore six times, killing him, and wounded Linda Moore before handcuffing her and her 9-year-old son, Justin. Sallie left the house with his estranged wife and her 17-year-old sister, April Moore, taking them to his secluded mobile home, where he sexually assaulted them. Sallie freed the sisters the next evening when they told him they would not press charges.  

Victim: John Moore was asleep when his son-in-law burst into his bedroom, flicking on the lights and firing a 9-mm handgun. Moore got out of bed, collapsed onto the floor and died. When Sallie dragged his estranged wife and her sister from the house, he left his 2-year-old son in the bedroom with his dead grandfather. Moore’s wounded wife Linda and their 9-year-old son Justin, who had been handcuffed, freed themselves after a few hours and ran to a neighbor’s house to call police.


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