AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Pardons and Paroles: A quick look

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles today denied a last-minute clemency appeal for Kelly Renee Gissendaner, a convicted murderer who is to be executed tonight.

Here's a glimpse at the five-member board that controls her fate.

Board members make around $130,000 a year and serve staggered terms of up to seven years. All five are men. Two are retired state lawmakers, while the remaining three have criminal justice experience. They all were appointed by Republican governors.

Terry E. Barnard, Chair

Appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2010 to a seven year term, Barnard is a former Republican state representative from Glennville in Southeast Georgia.

Barnard is a banker and real estate investor. He was elected to the House in 1995 and served through 2010, when he retired and took the board appointment.

While in the Legislature, Barnard served as chairman of the House State Properties Committee, which has oversight responsibilities for the Department of Corrections and handles bills dealing with pardons and paroles. While not a large fundraiser, Barnard did take significant contributions from private correction companies and interests that rely on contracts with prisons for healthcare and other related businesses.


James Mills, vice chair

Another former state representative, Mills was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal in 2011. Mills served 19 years in the Legislature representing Deal's hometown of Gainesville.

While in the Legislature, Mills served as chairman of the House Banking Committee and authored a number of socially conservative bills, including an amendment placing "In God We Trust" on the state flag. He also supported legislation requiring proof of citizenship when applying for a driver's license and that the license test be given in English.

While in the Legislature, Mills was a more active campaign fundraiser than Barnard, but his contributors had little to do with his current service on the parole board. Many of his donations came from the financial sector, including banks and title loan companies, which jibes with his service on the banking committee.

He owns a mini storage warehouse business.


Albert Murray

Murray is a former corrections official in Tennessee, Kansas and Alabama and served as head of the

Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice from 2004 to 2010.

He was appointed to the parole board in 2010 by Perdue.


Braxton Cotton

Cotton is a former police officer in Milledgeville and a former state trooper who served on the protection detail for both Perdue and Deal. He also served in the Army Reserves. He was appointed to the board by Deal in 2013 after serving as executive director of the Governor's Office of Transition, Support and Reentry.

Cotton also served as executive director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. That appointment, his first, made him the youngest African American to head a state agency.

He lives in Atlanta.


Brian Owens

Owens is a former commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections who was appointed to the board by Deal earlier this year.

He is a former parole officer. He joined the Department of Corrections in 1999, serving in a number of roles. He has a degree in psychology and lives in middle Georgia.



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Joyner’s column, AJC Watchdog, investigates topics in your community and Georgia.