Georgia’s parole board on Monday declined to stop 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 kidnapping her on May 4, 1976, on his way home from school in Cobb County, just outside of Atlanta. He is scheduled to die by injecting the sedative pentobarbital at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Jackson State Penitentiary.
The parole board held a closed session Monday to discuss his case. As usual, the Chamber did not justify its decision to refuse the pardon. If the execution goes ahead, Presnell will become the first person to be executed in Georgia this year and the seventh nationwide.
A lawyer for Presnell had argued that he was “deeply brain damaged” and did not understand the harm he was doing to the two girls. He deeply regrets the pain he caused and wishes he could “take it all back,” attorney Monet Brewerton-Palmer wrote in a clemency petition filed with 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 fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, a diagnosis that wasn’t available at the time of his trial nearly 46 years ago, the clemency petition said. It also states that Presnell grew up in an “abusive and unstable environment” and that sexual abuse was “endemic” in his family. Attorneys for the Federal Defender Program, where Brewerton-Palmer works, filed a lawsuit last week and an interim motion in Fulton County Superior Court on Monday. They said setting his execution date violated a written agreement reached with Attorney General Chris Carr’s office last April that put executions on hold during the coronavirus pandemic and set out conditions under which they could resume.
As a result of the alleged breach of that agreement, Brewerton-Palmer received notification on April 25, just two days before the state planned to seek the death warrant, leaving just three weeks before the clemency hearing, the lawsuit states. Brewerton-Palmer had asked the parole board to delay his execution by 90 days so the board could consider his request and then commute his sentence to life without the possibility of parole.
Presnell abducted the two girls as they were walking home down a wooded path from a Cobb County elementary school on May 4, 1976. He drove her to a secluded wooded area, made her undress, and then raped the older girl, according to evidence set forth in a Georgia Supreme Court ruling. The younger girl tried to run, but Presnell caught her and drowned her in a stream, the verdict says.
He locked the 10-year-old girl in the trunk of his car and then abandoned her in a wooded area when he had a flat tire and said he would return. She ran to a nearby gas station and described Presnell and his car to the police. Officers found him changing tires at his apartment complex. He initially denied everything but later led police to the body of the 8-year-old girl and confessed, the verdict says.
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