COVINGTON -- A stay of execution has been ordered for Melbert Ray Ford Jr., the man convicted in the 1986 slaying of his former girlfriend and her 11-year-old niece at a Newton County grocery store. Ford was set to die by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Jackson Diagnostic Prison.
According to a Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole press release, a 90-day stay was granted due to the fact that there is a vacancy on the board. A court has previously held that to go forward with an execution without a full five-member board is a violation of the Georgia Constitution.
"A death case clemency consideration by the board places oppressive and excruciating pressure on both those advocating for, and those opposed to, clemency; therefore, the board members desire to avoid forcing all interested parties from unnecessarily participating in two clemency proceedings," the press release states.
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is responsible for appointing Pardons and Parole Board members. Current board members include L. Gale Buckner, chair; James E. Donald; Robert E. Keller; and Garland R. Hunt, Esq., vice chair.
Newton County Superior Court Judge Horace Johnson recently signed an order setting a seven-day window for Ford's execution beginning at noon on Tuesday. The date and time were subsequently set by the Georgia Department of Corrections for 7 p.m. Tuesday.
According to Scheree C. Moore, director of public affairs for the Pardons and Parole Board, the Department of Corrections will again assume the responsibility of setting an execution date once the fifth board member is in place.
According to court records of Ford's trial, a Newton County deputy found the body of Martha Chapman Matich lying dead behind the counter at Chapman's Grocery store on Ga. Highway 81 after a burglar alarm sounded about 10:30 p.m. on March 6, 1986.
"Her niece, Lisa Chapman was discovered in the bathroom, shot in the head but still alive, sitting on a bucket, bleeding from the head and having convulsions. She could answer no questions. She died later," the court records state.
Ford was convicted of the crime and has been on Georgia's death row for 23 years.