Atlanta police officers packed the Municipal Court in Atlanta on Oct. 14, 1997, for the arraignment of Gregory Lawler, who stood accused of killing one Atlanta police officer and critically wounding another before holding the department at bay for hours. Lawler, now 64, is scheduled to be executed on Oct. 19, 2016, at 7 p.m. (Dwight Ross Jr. / AJC 1997 file photo)
Photo: DWIGHT ROSS JR.
Photo: DWIGHT ROSS JR.

Execution of Atlanta cop killer, if it happens, will set records

The retired judge who presided over Gregory Lawler’s trial in 2000 for murdering an Atlanta police officer signed a warrant on Wednesday setting his execution for Oct. 19.

If the 64-year-old Lawler is executed by lethal injection as scheduled, he will be the seventh person Georgia has put to death this year, more than any other state thus far in 2016, and the most in one year in Georgia since capital punishment was reinstated in the mid-1970s.

On Oct. 12, 1997, Officer John Sowa and his partner were dispatched after a witness reported seeing Lawler hit his girlfriend with a bag. Lawler and Donna Rodgers had been walking home from a nearby bar.

Sowa and Officer Patricia Cocciolone saw Rodgers, intoxicated, sitting on a curb in a parking lot and Lawler trying to pull her to her feet. Lawler walked away and went home when he saw the officers.

The two officers decided to give Rodgers a ride to the couple’s Buckhead apartment.

When Lawler opened the door, he shouted obscenities at the two officers as Rodgers walked in. Then, according to testimony, Lawler grabbed an AR-15 carbine he kept by the door and fired 15 perpetrator bullets, which can pierce police body armor.

Cocciolone, hit three times, was able to call for help. Sowa, 25, was killed — shot five times — and his body fell beside a parked car near a sidewalk on Morosgo Way in Buckhead.

After a six-hour standoff, a hostage negotiator persuaded Lawler to surrender. In the apartment, police found the assault rifle used to kill Sowa and wound Cocciolone, along with numerous other firearms and several types of ammunition.

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