COVINGTON - The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday to reinstate the death penalty for Brian Keith Terrell who was convicted in 1992 for the Newton County murder of 70-year-old John Watson.
The decision reversed a ruling made in a lower court that the death penalty should be set aside, which was based on the defendant's contention of alleged ineffectiveness of his counsel at trial.
John T. Strauss and Tanya Greene of the firm Strauss & Walker are listed as attorneys for Terrell during his trial.
"Obviously, I think the Supreme Court is correct in their ruling and their very detailed and thorough opinion in reversing the habeas judge, which would have given Terrell a new trial on the sentencing issue," said Newton County District Attorney Ken Wynne. "After three trials, Mr. Watson's family has been put through enough."
According to court documents, the victim was a friend of Terrell's mother who transported the elderly man for dialysis treatment three times a week.
On May 1, 1992, Terrell was released from prison on parole from an armed robbery conviction. On June 20, Watson called the Newton County Sheriff's Office and reported he received 10 canceled checks totally $8,700 which had been stolen and forged. Some of the checks were made payable to Terrell and the others had been made payable to a former school friend of Terrell, who police later determined was not involved in the forgeries, the documents stated.
The victim told authorities because of his regard for Terrell's mother he would like for them to wait a few days before serving an arrest warrant on him.
"He told Ms. Terrell to tell her son he would not take a warrant if he returned most of the money by Monday, June 22 ... (she) relayed this information to her son who promised to repay the money. However, the next day, June 21, Terrell, who had recently bought a car and new clothes despite not having a job, told his mother that he could not repay the money," according to court documents.
"John Watson's body was found on his property at approximately noon on June 22. He had been shot four times and severely beaten in the face and head," the documents state. "The medical examiner testified that either the gunshots or the beating would have been fatal, and the victim was still alive when receiving all these injuries. ... Watson had been shot in his driveway as he was getting into his car to drive to his morning dialysis appointment and then dragged into the brush and beaten."
The documents said that Jermaine Johnson, Terrell's cousin, confessed to his role in the crime, testifying he dropped Terrell off at the victim's home and picked him up later.
"Terrell told Johnson he had shot a man," the documents stated. "Terrell bought new clothes at a department store and took a bath at his grandmother's house while Johnson washed the car. Later, Terrell took his son to the zoo," according to the court documents.
Terrell was later arrested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and after a mistrial was found guilty of the murder and 10 counts of first-degree forgery at a second trial held in Monroe. The jury recommended a death sentence due to the following statutory aggravating circumstances: the offense of murder was committed while the defendant was engaged in the commission of an aggravated battery; and the offense of murder was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved depravity of mind and an aggravated battery to the victim before death, according to court documents.
There are currently two other Newton County men on Georgia's Death Row awaiting execution: Melbert Ray Ford Jr. for the shooting death of his former girlfriend Martha Chapman Matich and her 11-year-old niece, Lisa Renee Chapman; and William David Riley, who was convicted of setting his mobile home on fire with his 3 small children inside.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Barbara Knowles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.