High court to take up lawsuit that blocked Presnell's planned execution

·1 min read

Sep. 15—The Supreme Court of Georgia will take up a lawsuit next week which successfully blocked the execution of Virgil Delano Presnell Jr., who was scheduled to be put to death in May.

Presnell has been on death row since 1976 for the murder of eight-year-old Lori Smith and rape of her 10-year-old friend. He is the longest-serving inmate on Georgia's death row, according to the attorney general's office.

He was originally set to be executed by lethal injection at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson on May 17. The night before, however, a Fulton County judge sided with Presnell's attorneys from the Federal Defender Program and blocked the proceedings.

The attorneys successfully argued Attorney General Chris Carr, whose office obtained the warrant for Presnell's death, had violated an agreement on when and how executions would resume after the pandemic.

Carr's office appealed, arguing the agreement did not constitute a legal contract, and called the lawsuit "a stunt by the Federal Defender Program" in its brief filed with the high court.

The federal defenders, meanwhile, say the short notice of the execution gave them little time to prepare for Presnell's clemency hearing, thereby violating his rights.

The Fulton judge's ruling blocking the execution remained in effect through the seven-day window through which it could be carried out, and his death warrant expired May 24.

The Supreme Court will hear the case Tuesday at 10 a.m. In June, it rejected another lawsuit from Presnell's attorneys, which was filed against the warden of the prison.