ATLANTA (Reuters) - The parole board in the U.S. state of Georgia spared a convicted killer from execution hours before he was due to die by lethal injection on Thursday and commuted his sentence to life in prison.
The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles made its decision less than three hours before Samuel David Crowe, 47, was to be executed, according to a spokeswoman for the state’s prisons.
“After careful and exhaustive consideration of the requests, the board voted to grant clemency. The board voted to commute the sentence to life without parole,” the parole board said.
Crowe’s death would have marked the third execution since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty last month.
Crowe was not present at the parole board hearing in Atlanta. He had already eaten his last meal and was preparing to enter the execution chamber at the prison in Jackson, Georgia, Mallie McCord of the Georgia Department of Corrections said.
In March 1988, Crowe killed store manager Joseph Pala during a robbery at the lumber company in Douglas County, west of Atlanta. Crowe, who had previously worked at the store, shot Pala three times with a pistol, beat him with a crowbar and a pot of paint.
Crowe pleaded guilty to armed robbery and murder and was sentenced to death the following year.
“David (Crowe) takes full responsibility for his crime and experiences profound remorse,” according to Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, an advocacy group, who welcomed the board’s decision.
The decision to grant clemency on the day of an execution was “extraordinarily rare,” said Stephen Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights.
In most cases, clemency decisions rested with a state governor frequently under political pressure to show firmness with death row inmates rather than with a clemency board independent of the state political process, he said.
At Thursday’s hearing, his lawyers presented a dossier of evidence attesting to his remorse and good behavior in jail, according to local media reports. The lawyers also said he was suffering from withdrawal symptoms from a cocaine addiction at the time of the crime.
The U.S. Supreme Court on April 16 rejected a challenge to the three-drug cocktail used in most U.S. executions, which opponents claimed inflicted unnecessary pain. Georgia then conducted an execution on May 5.
Georgia has executed 41 men since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1973 and this week it had 109 prisoners on death row.