Georgia executes man convicted in 1994 slaying of woman he met at nightclub

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Georgia death row inmate Marcus Ray Johnson is shown in this undated photo provided by the Georgia Department of Corrections. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles plans to hold a clemency hearing Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015, for Johnson who is set for execution Thursday. He was convicted in April 1998 in the March 1994 rape and murder of Angela Sizemore. (AP Photo/Georgia Department of Corrections)

JACKSON, Georgia — A man convicted of killing a woman he met at a Georgia nightclub was put to death Thursday after losing a last-minute round of appeals.

Marcus Ray Johnson, 50, was declared dead at 10:11 p.m. at the state prison in Jackson, Georgia Department of Corrections officials said. Johnson was convicted in the March 1994 rape and murder of Angela Sizemore in Albany.

Johnson declined to make a final statement or have a prayer said for him. The warden left the execution chamber at 9:44 p.m. Records from previous executions show the lethal drug generally starts flowing within minutes after the warden's exit.

Brian Kammer, an attorney for Johnson, had argued his client shouldn't be executed because doubts remained about his guilt. Prosecutors said there was no doubt Johnson killed Sizemore.

In a statement released after the execution was over, Kammer said it "deepens the moral stain on the State of Georgia." The application of the death penalty is characterized by arbitrary, inaccurate and morally bankrupt judgments, he said.

"Georgia should be erring on the side of caution, not rushing its citizens pell mell to the execution chamber," Kammer said.

Ken Hodges, who was Dougherty County district attorney during Johnson's trial, sat next to Sizemore's daughter, Katie Barker, as the two witnessed Johnson's execution.

"Of all the death penalty cases I had, what happened to the victim in this case was the most vile and reprehensible of any," he said. "He was the most deserving of the death penalty."

A Butts County Superior Court judge on Wednesday rejected a constitutional challenge to Johnson's sentence and conviction and declined to stop his execution. The Georgia Supreme Court on Thursday upheld that ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Johnson's appeals for a stay of execution without comment Thursday evening.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles on Wednesday denied Johnson's request to commute his sentence or to delay it for 90 days to allow further DNA testing. The board, as is its custom, did not give a reason for its denial. The parole board is the only entity authorized to commute a death sentence in Georgia.

Sizemore and Johnson met at an Albany nightclub the night of March 23, 1994, and witnesses saw them kissing and drinking heavily. They were seen leaving the bar together early the next morning.

A man walking his dog later that morning found Sizemore's body inside her SUV behind an apartment complex. She had been stabbed 41 times with a small, dull knife and sexually assaulted with a pecan branch, prosecutors said.

Johnson told investigators he and Sizemore had sex in a grassy vacant lot and that he then "kind of lost it" and punched her in the face during an argument. But Johnson said he left immediately afterward and headed home to collapse on his front yard, where he awoke the next morning.

A judge stopped Johnson's previously scheduled execution in October 2011 to allow for new DNA testing on some evidence but later denied Johnson's request for a new trial.

The only physical evidence linking Johnson to Sizemore supports his admission of consensual sex and her bloodied nose, Kammer argued. The rest of the state's case was circumstantial and based on unreliable and inconsistent eyewitness testimony, he said in court filings.

Investigators never found Sizemore's blood on Johnson's pocket knife or on the branch prosecutors said was used to sexually assault her, Kammer argued. They didn't find Johnson's DNA or fingerprints in Sizemore's SUV, which police believed he drove from the crime scene to a different part of town.

All of the arguments Johnson's defense team has raised have been heard and rejected by courts, he said. The eyewitnesses saw Johnson in broad daylight and were completely reliable, and new DNA evidence didn't prove Johnson's innocence and didn't implicate anyone else, said Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards, who was a prosecutor on the case.

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