ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia man convicted of killing his ex-wife and her boyfriend more than two decades ago is scheduled to be executed Wednesday.
Donnie Cleveland Lance, 66, is set to receive a lethal injection at the state prison in Jackson for the November 1997 killings of Sabrina “Joy” Lance and Dwight “Butch” Wood Jr. in Jackson County, about 60 miles northeast of Atlanta.
Lance went to Wood’s home the night of Nov. 8, 1997, kicked in the front door and shot Wood in the front and back with a shotgun and then beat Joy Lance to death with the butt of the shotgun, according to a Georgia Supreme Court summary of the case.
Lance has consistently said he did not kill the pair.
There were no witnesses and no murder weapon was ever found. Lance’s lawyers have argued that no blood or other physical evidence linked him to the killings but that investigators focused only on him from the start. Lawyers for the state have argued in court filings that the evidence against Lance, “although circumstantial, was overwhelming.”
Prosecutors argued Lance had long abused his ex-wife, both during their marriage and after their divorce, and had threatened multiple times to kill her. His lawyers wrote in a clemency application that the two had a troubled relationship and that “alcohol abuse was a significant factor in a history of mutual aggression.”
Lance’s lawyers have sought DNA testing on various pieces of evidence, arguing the testing could rule Lance out as the killer and could reveal the person responsible.
Jackson County Superior Court Judge Nicholas Primm in September declined a request for DNA testing and a new trial, saying that in light of all the evidence presented at trial it’s not likely the jury would have reached a different verdict if DNA results had been available. The Georgia Supreme Court declined to take the case, and Lance’s lawyers have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in.
Separately, Lance’s lawyers filed a petition last month in Butts County Superior Court alleging that the prosecutor improperly packed the grand jury with people he knew would side with him. Because the grand jury was not randomly selected, Lance’s lawyers argue, his death sentence is invalid and unconstitutional.
Lawyers for the state countered that those arguments have been previously raised and were rejected by the court. Towaliga Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge agreed with the state and rejected the petition last week. His lawyers have asked the Georgia Supreme Court to hear an appeal of that decision and to stop his execution from happening in the meantime.
Lance’s attorneys have also asked the State Board of Pardons and Paroles to spare his life. The board, which is the only authority in Georgia with the power to commute a death sentence, denied clemency after holding a closed-door hearing Tuesday.
In the clemency application, Lance’s lawyers argued that Joy and Donnie Lance’s now-adult son and daughter already lost their mother and would suffer even more if their father was executed.
“We’ve spent our whole lives with this huge gaping hole in our hearts, but at least we’ve had dad at our sides,” Stephanie Lance Cape and Jessie Lance wrote in a letter to the parole board. “It’s almost impossible to imagine that it could get worse.”
Lance’s lawyers also noted that the trial court refused a request from his attorney for the appointment of a second lawyer and for funds to hire experts. He spent all his time preparing for the guilt-or-innocence phase of the trial and didn’t present any evidence during the penalty phase. The jury that sentenced Lance to death heard nothing about his mental health issues or traumatic brain injuries that affected his mental health functioning, the application says.
Lance has also been a model inmate, with only two minor infraction during his two decades on death row — having too many stamps and refusing to move to a different cell, the clemency application says.
Lance would be the first prisoner executed in Georgia this year.
By KATE BRUMBACK
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