ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s parole board on Monday declined to halt the execution of a man who killed an 8-year-old girl 46 years ago.
Virgil Delano Presnell Jr. killed the girl and raped her 10-year-old friend after abducting them as they walked home from school in Cobb County, just outside Atlanta, on May 4, 1976. He is scheduled to die by injection of the sedative pentobarbital at the state prison in Jackson at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The parole board held a closed-door meeting to discuss his case on Monday. As is customary, the board did not explain its decision to deny clemency. If the execution proceeds, Presnell will be the first person put to death in Georgia this year and the seventh nationwide.
A lawyer for Presnell had argued that he is “profoundly brain damaged” and didn’t understand the harm he was causing the two girls. He is deeply sorry for the pain he caused and wishes he could “take it all back,” attorney Monet Brewerton-Palmer wrote in a clemency application submitted to the State Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Presnell’s mother drank heavily while she was pregnant with him and he suffered prenatal brain damage and likely has a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, a diagnosis that wasn’t available at the time of his trial nearly 46 years ago, the clemency application says. It also says Presnell grew up in an “abusive and unstable environment,” and that sexual abuse was “endemic” in his family.
Lawyers for the Federal Defender Program, where Brewerton-Palmer works, filed a lawsuit last week and an emergency motion Monday in Fulton County Superior Court. They said the setting of his execution date violates a written agreement reached last April with the office of state Attorney General Chris Carr that temporarily put executions on hold during the coronavirus pandemic and established conditions under which they could resume.
As a result of the alleged breach of that agreement, Brewerton-Palmer received notification on April 25, only two days before the state planned to seek the execution warrant, leaving only three weeks before the clemency hearing, the lawsuit says.
Brewerton-Palmer had asked the parole board to postpone his execution by 90 days so the board can review his application and then to commute his sentence to life without the possibility of parole.
Presnell abducted the two girls as they walked home along a wooded trail from a Cobb County elementary school on May 4, 1976. He drove them to a secluded wooded area, had them undress and raped the older girl, according to evidence at trial outlined in a Georgia Supreme Court ruling. The younger girl tried to run, but Presnell caught her and drowned her in a creek, the ruling says.
He locked the 10-year-old girl in the trunk of his car and then left her in a wooded area when he got a flat tire, saying he’d return. She ran to a nearby gas station and described Presnell and his car to police.
Officers found him changing his tire at his apartment complex. He denied everything at first but later led police to the 8-year-old girl’s body and confessed, the ruling says.