ATLANTA (AP) — A man known as the “stocking strangler,” who was convicted of raping and choking to death three elderly women four decades ago in Georgia is set for execution next month.
Carlton Gary was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1977 slayings of 89-year-old Florence Scheible, 69-year-old Martha Thurmond and 74-year-old Kathleen Woodruff. Gary, 67, is scheduled to die March 15 at the state prison in Jackson, state Attorney General Chris Carr said Friday in a news release.
Gary’s lawyers maintain that the wrong man was arrested, that their client didn’t commit the attacks. But state and federal courts have repeatedly rejected their arguments over the years.
For eight months, from September 1977 to April 1978, a string of violent attacks on older women terrified the west Georgia city of Columbus. The women, ranging in age from 59 to 89, were beaten, raped and choked, often with their own stockings. Seven died and two were injured in the attacks.
Police arrested Gary six years after the last killing, in May 1984. A charismatic and talented musician, he was popular with the ladies and good looking enough to model for a local store.
He became a suspect when a gun stolen during a 1977 burglary in the upscale neighborhood where all but one of the victims lived was traced to him. Authorities have said he confessed to participating in the burglaries but he said another man committed the rapes and killings.
Gary had been behind bars on and off since his teens and had escaped prisons in upstate New York and South Carolina.
A jury in August 1986 convicted him on three counts each of malice murder, rape and burglary and sentenced him to die. While prosecutors only charged him in three of the attacks, they have consistently said they believe he was solely responsible for all nine of the so-called stocking strangler crimes and they presented evidence of the other attacks at trial.
Prosecutors argued that common factors established a pattern. The victims were all older white women who lived alone and were sexually assaulted and choked, usually with stockings. They were attacked at home, usually in the evening, by someone who forced his way inside. All but one lived in the Wynnton neighborhood, and all lived near where Gary lived at the time of the crimes.
Prosecutors also presented evidence that they said connected Gary to similar crimes in New York state.
Gary came within hours of execution in December 2009, when the Georgia Supreme Court stepped in, ordering a lower court to consider DNA testing. Following the testing and more hearings, a judge last September denied Gary’s request for a new trial. The state Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of that ruling.
In a November filing with Georgia’s high court, Gary’s attorneys said physical evidence that wasn’t available at the time of his trial — either because new testing is now available or because the state didn’t disclose it to the defense — “at least raises reasonable doubts” about his guilt.
That new evidence includes a DNA test of semen found on the sleeping gown of one of the victims that doesn’t match Gary. That’s significant, his lawyers argue, because that victim survived the attack and dramatically identified him at trial as her attacker. Gary was not charged in her attack.
His lawyers also say a bite mark found on one of the victims didn’t match Gary’s teeth and that a shoe print found at one of the scenes was much too small to be Gary’s. They also question the validity of fingerprint evidence presented in the case and an unrecorded and unsigned confession.
Lawyers for the state disputed those claims, saying Gary’s case has been repeatedly reviewed by the courts, which have rejected his claims. They noted in a filing with the high court that the state now has even more evidence that proves Gary’s guilt and that the judge who denied him a new trial found that none of the evidence Gary’s lawyers cited would likely have changed the verdict.
Gary would be the first inmate put to death by the state of Georgia this year.