Violent childhood put Georgia killer on sure path to Death Row


Joshua Bishop was 19 when he began his short journey to Georgia’s Death Row.

He seemed to be headed in that direction all along, authorities say.

“I’m not going to say I’m surprised he killed two people,” said Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee. “I was disappointed that life had brought him to the place where he killed two people … in such a horrific way.”

Bishop, 41, is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Thursday for beating a man to death with a curtain rod. He had killed another man earlier and, with an accomplice, bent his limbs in unnatural directions to make his body fit into a makeshift grave. The day before the scheduled execution, the state parole board will hold a clemency hearing.

Related: How lethal injection works 

In 1994, Bishop killed Ricky Lee Wills and 35-year-old Leverette Morrison just two weeks apart.

“We were called early one morning to the scene where we found Leverette Morrison’s body,” Sheriff Massee said. “By early evening we had made two arrests in this case, one of which was Josh Bishop.”

Bishop and his co-defendant, Mark Braxley, both quickly admitted to the murders. Despite confessing, Bishop went to trial and was sentenced to death. Braxley, however, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

Interactive: The faces of Georgia's Death Row

According to family members, Bishop was steeped in violence, alcoholism and drug addiction from the day he was born.

When Leverette and Wills were murdered, Bishop had been living under a bridge with his mother, an alcoholic and drug addict who sometimes prostituted herself. She was heard telling her son that men show their love with punches, slaps and verbal assaults. She knew a man loved her, she told her son, if he beat her.

Family members have said Joshua Bishop never escaped those influences.

Sheriff Massee is sympathetic, but he also said Bishop deserves to be executed.

“We’ve had many people who have been successful, productive individuals in their communities that had terrible home lives, and that’s not an excuse,” Massee said. “But I want to tell you Josh Bishop did have a terrible home life.”

Former sheriff’s office Detective Richard Horn expressed similar sentiments in an affidavit attached to one of Bishop’s appeals.

“Given my knowledge of Bishop and his early environment, it is my opinion that he had little chance of success in life,” Horn wrote.

A failed plan to steal a car

Bishop, Braxley and Morrison, who may have been Bishop’s uncle, spent much of June 25, 1994, drinking — first at a Milledgeville bar and later at Morrison’s trailer.

Bishop and Braxley had a plan to take the keys from Morrison’s pocket while he was asleep so they could steal his Jeep; Braxley wanted to visit his girlfriend. But Morrison woke when Bishop reached into his pants pocket, and the three began to fight. Bishop and Braxley used a car battery to knock down Morrison, and then Bishop set upon Morrison with the curtain rod.

The two dumped Morrison’s body between two trash bins, set fire to his car in nearby woods and then walked back to Braxley’s trailer to clean up the murder scene.

Bishop and Braxley, then 36, were in custody by sundown that day, and it was during the police interview regarding Morrison that investigators learned a second man had been killed and buried in some woods near Braxley’s trailer.

They folded up Wills’ body, twisting his legs into unnatural positions, so he would fit in the grave.

“It was a very aggressive homicide,” Massee said. “We not only had one very aggressive homicide. We had two.”

Bishop said he killed Wills because Wills boasted about sexually assaulting Bishop’s mother.

‘Nothing good about his family’

The details of Bishop’s life reside in written statements, used in his appeals, from almost four dozen people, including some from Morrison’s family. They described lives controlled by alcohol, drugs and physical and verbal abuse.

Bishop’s mother treated her two sons like “drinking buddies,” wrote Barbara Cheeley, the boys’ aunt. “This seemed to be the way she dealt with them best.”

No one connected to these murders – not even the victims – is a sympathetic character.

“I had watched him as a juvenile, and he had issues,” said Massee, who has been sheriff in the Middle Georgia county for almost three decades. “You will read nothing good about his family. If there is something good out there, I don’t know about it.”

Carolyn Bishop was 17 when she gave birth to Joshua Bishop’s older brother, Michael. Michael Bishop’s father, Mike, was 14 years old when he married Carolyn.

Joshua Bishop, however, never knew for certain who his father was.

“Josh was almost obsessed with finding out who his daddy was,” the brother wrote in an affidavit. “It was sad for me to hear Josh ask so many people while he was growing up who his daddy was. The answer was usually ‘I don’t know,’ and this was really painful for him to hear.”

‘Drugs and liquor ruled Carolyn’

Carolyn Bishop told her younger son that one of three men could be his father, most likely Albert Ray Morrison, who was Leverette Morrison’s brother.

“Many people say Josh is my son but I don’t really know for sure,” Albert Morrison wrote. “His mama, Carolyn, went with a lot of men, including me and Leverette.”

Albert Morrison said his dead brother had “problems with drugs as far back as I can remember.

“I know Josh was charged with killing Leverette and received a death sentence for it,” Albert Morrison wrote. “But Josh is the same people as me and Leverette. With all the drinking and crack going on, it could just as easily have been Josh who was killed as my brother.”

Joshua Bishop’s maternal grandparents were moonshiners who were more interested in drinking than caring for their children, according to relatives’ affidavits. It “turned out that Carolyn got the worst parts of both,” wrote Allen Hartley, Carolyn Bishop’s first cousin.

Joshua Bishop first tasted alcohol at 4 and in just a few years was “huffing” chemicals like gasoline. Eventually, he was using cocaine and drinking with his mother.

“If you spent much time with Carolyn you felt like you were living in a tornado,” Mary Bass Fordam, Carolyn Bishop’s older sister. “Carolyn loved a man that would fight with her. The drugs and liquor ruled Carolyn. It was the thing she wanted more than anything in life.

“Carolyn’s demons were big ones. They took control of her and made her an even more horrible person. Carolyn could say some horrible things to us and to her boys. And, the only time I could stand to be around Carolyn was when I was drunk.”


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