ATLANTA – A man known as the “stocking strangler,” who was accused of the rape and suffocation death of three older women, four decades ago in Georgia, is set for the implementation of the following month.
Carlton Gary was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1977 massacre of the 89-year-old Florence Scheible, 69-year-old Martha Thurmond and the 74-year-old Kathleen Woodruff. Gary, 67, is scheduled to die March 15 in the state prison in Jackson, Attorney-General Chris Carr said Friday in a press release.
Gary’s lawyers claim that the wrong man was arrested, that their client did not commit the attacks. But the state and federal courts have repeatedly rejected their arguments in the course of the years.
For eight months, from September 1977 to April 1978, a series of violent attacks on older women are terrified of 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 handsome enough to model for a local store.
He was a suspect when a gun stolen in 1977 during a burglary in the upscale district where all but one of the victims lived was traced to him. The authorities have said that he confessed to taking part in the burglaries, but he said another man committed the rapes and murders.
Gary had been behind bars on and off since his teens and had escaped from the prisons in the north of the state of 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 death. While the prosecutors only charged him in three of the attacks, they have consistently said that they believe that he is solely responsible for all nine of the so-called stocking strangler crimes, and they presented evidence of the other attacks on the process.
The plaintiffs argued that common factors a pattern. The victims were all elderly white women who lived alone and sexual violence, and choked, usually with stockings. They were attacked at home, usually in the evening, by someone who forced his way inside. All lived in the Wynnton neighborhood, and had lived in the neighborhood where Gary lived at the time of the crimes.
Prosecutors also presented evidence that they said connected Gary similar crimes in the state of New York.
Gary came within hours of execution in December 2009, when the Supreme court of Georgia stepped in, ordering a lower court to consider DNA testing. After the test, and more hearings, a judge in September last year denied Gary’s request for a new trial. The state Supreme Court rejected to hear an appeal against that judgment.
In a November filing with Georgia on the high court, Gary’s lawyers said physical evidence that is not available at the time of his trial — either because the new test is now available or because the state does not disclose to the defense “at least raises a reasonable doubt” about his guilt.
That new evidence includes a DNA test of the semen found on the sleeping dress of one of the victims that did not match Gary. That is significant, his lawyers argue, because the 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 is not with Gary’s teeth and that a shoe print found in one of the scenes was much too small to be Gary’s. They also question the validity of the fingerprint evidence in the case and a non-registered and non-signed confession.
The lawyers for the state defended claims, says Gary’s case has been repeatedly reviewed by the court, which rejected his claims. She noted in a file with the high court that the state now has even more evidence that proves that Gary’s fault and that the judge who denied him a new trial to find that none of the evidence of Gary’s lawyers cited would probably have changed the verdict.
Gary would be the first inmate put to death by the state of Georgia this year.