Georgia inmate executed for 1994 convenience store killing as last-minute DNA test denied

Ryan W. Miller, USA TODAY
Ray Jefferson Cromartie, 52, was convicted in the 1994 killing of a convenience store clerk. His lawyers say DNA testing could have exonerated him.

A Georgia inmate sentenced to death for fatally shooting a convenience store clerk during a robbery 25 years ago was executed Wednesday night, authorities say.

Ray Jefferson Cromartie, 52, was pronounced dead at 10:59 p.m after lethal injection at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, the state's department of corrections said.

Cromartie was convicted of the 1994 killing of Richard Slysz at a Thomasville convenience store, but his lawyers recently had appealed for DNA testing of evidence they say could have exonerated Cromartie after a new statement from one of the men involved in the robbery.

Cromartie and Corey Clark asked Thaddeus Lucas to drive them to the convenience store early on April 10, 1994 – days after Cromartie had wounded a store clerk in a separate shooting, prosecutors say.

Lucas stayed in the car as Clark and Cromartie entered, prosecutors say. Slysz was shot twice, and Clark and Cromartie fled with two 12-packs of Budweiser in hand. Cromartie later boasted about the killing, witnesses said.

Cromartie was found guilty of the murder and other charges, while Clark and Lucas served prison time for lesser counts.

However, attorneys recently filed a statement from Lucas in federal court saying he overhead Clark take responsibility for killing Slysz.

Cromartie's lawyers also wanted DNA testing on shell casings from the shootings, clothing found near the first shooting and clothing from Slysz. 

The requests filed in both state and federal courts were denied. A federal judge said Tuesday that Lucas’ statement was "not new reliable evidence of Cromartie’s actual innocence." A federal appeals court upheld the decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court did not intervene.

In a statement after the execution, Cromartie's attorney Shawn Nolan called it "so sad and frankly outrageous" that the DNA tests were denied.

"In this day and age, where DNA testing is routine, it is shocking that Georgia decided to end this man's life without allowing us, his attorneys, access to the materials to do these simple tests," Nolan said.

Cromartie had no final statement – his last word aloud was "No" when asked if he had anything to say, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. A pastor said a prayer for him.

News reporters in the room said the man did not struggle and took deep breaths while looking at the ceiling before closing his eyes. 

Three people, including Cromartie, have been executed in Georgia this year. The department of corrections says 44 men and one woman remain under death sentence in Georgia.

Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow USA TODAY's Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Georgia inmate executed for 1994 killing after DNA test denied