Archive: Days before execution, the Stoners remember their quiet poet


(This story was originally published May 14, 1995)

Adairsville — On Nov. 29, 1979, Mary Frances Stoner, a quiet, sensitive 12-year-old, wrote a poem saying she wished she could see into her future to “correct the mistakes I would make.”

Her parents have the same wish. If Mary Frances could have seen her future, they say, she might have not have stepped off her school bus into the clutches of a killer. She might have lived to see her 28th birthday this year. 

“She'll always be 12,” said her father, Roy Stoner.

On Monday, Roy Stoner, his wife, Mary, and their relatives plan to gather in Jackson at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center to wait for word that Darrell Gene Devier, 39, has been executed almost 16 years after he kidnapped, raped and murdered Mary Frances. 

If Devier’s sentence is carried out on schedule, he will be the 20th person to die in Georgia’s electric chair in 12 years and the second in less than a month. 

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And the Stoners hope they finally will be at peace. “It will close this aspect of it,” Mary Stoner said. “Every time something is on TV or in the newspapers [about the crime], it opens up all the hurt and brings back all the bad memories.”

Devier’s attorneys, who work for the anti-death penalty group Georgia Resource Center, are arguing in court that he should not be executed, because of his history of drug use and childhood abuse. 

Last week, two of his attorneys appeared at the Stoner home to ask that Mary Stoner and her 17-year-old daughter, Sallie, speak out against the death penalty and help get Devier’s execution delayed. 

They refused. 

“In the Bible, it tells us to go by the law of the land, and the law of the land convicted him,” Mary Stoner said. “He will answer for the life he took. My feelings have not changed in the 16 years since it happened.”

Devier confessed to police that he had watched Mary Frances getting off the school bus several times and that he had even told co-workers that he wanted to have sex with the sixth-grader. 

On the afternoon of Nov. 30, 1979, he lured the girl to his car by asking for directions. Devier pulled her inside the car, he told police, and took her to a wooded area, where he raped her and then killed her when she struggled. He choked her and crushed her skull with rocks. Devier said he then went home, washed up and had dinner. 

The next day, deer hunters came across the child's slender body, lying face-down on the ground. 

Mary Stoner said she suffered an “uncontrollable anger.” So she prayed. “I could feel [God] taking that off me and giving me sweet peace,” she said. “Now we have sweet memories of her.”

Since the murder, Devier’s mother and son, who live nearby, have both apologized to the Stoners. 

Roy Stoner, a lay minister in the Church of God who runs a local food bank, said the legal process has aggravated his family's pain. 

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Devier was tried three times. His first trial ended in mistrial, and his second was overturned on appeal. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1983 after his third trial.

“A lot of times the victim is not heard,” Roy Stoner said. “We've got laws to get changed to make [the judicial system] work. It’s easy to rally around us today and feel sorry for us, but people are losing their children, spouses are being abused. Families can’t take any more.”

Mary Frances was buried on the hill behind the family’s home. Inside, the house is filled with her photographs and mementos. 

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Nearly a decade ago, the Stoners attended what should have been Mary Frances’ graduation from Adairsville High School to watch her friends receive their diplomas. 

“My heart literally was breaking into a million pieces because [Mary Frances’ graduation] was taken away from me,” her mother said. “Seeing her go to a prom, seeing her go on her first date, seeing her get married — all this was taken away from me.”

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