ATLANTA — A man convicted of killing an off-duty prison guard after asking him for a ride outside a Georgia Walmart store is scheduled to be executed next month.
Robert Earl Butts Jr., 40, is scheduled to die May 3 at the state prison in Jackson, state Attorney General Chris Carr said in a statement Monday. Butts and Marion Wilson Jr., 41, were convicted and sentenced to death in the March 1996 slaying of Donovan Corey Parks.
Wilson's case is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Attorneys for Butts have argued that his trial defense was ineffective and failed to thoroughly investigate his case or to present mitigating evidence, including a childhood characterized by abuse and neglect, that could have spared him the death penalty. State and federal courts have rejected his appeals.
But his lawyers argued in a federal court filing last week that a Georgia Supreme Court opinion published in January opens the door for a federal judge to consider his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.
Authorities said Butts and Wilson were gang members, and evidence was presented at Butts' trial that showed the two had gone looking for a victim when they drove Butts' car to a Walmart store in Milledgeville, in central Georgia.
A witness saw the pair standing behind Parks in a checkout line, and the store's receipts showed Butts bought a pack of gum right after Parks bought pet supplies, according to a Georgia Supreme Court summary of the case.
A witness heard Butts ask Parks for a ride. Parks agreed and Butts climbed in the front passenger seat while Wilson sat in the back behind Parks.
After they'd driven a short distance, Butts showed Parks a shotgun and ordered him to stop the car, the summary says. Parks was dragged from the car, ordered to lie face-down on the ground and was killed with a single shot to the back of his head.
Butts and Wilson then drove to a service station in Gray and put gas in Parks' car before driving to Atlanta to try to sell the car. Unsuccessful, they bought two cans of gasoline, drove to a remote part of Macon and set fire to the vehicle. They walked to a nearby public phone where Butts called his uncle to arrange a ride back to the Walmart to get Butts' car.
Investigators recorded the license plate numbers of the vehicles in the Walmart parking lot that night, including Butts' car. They found a shotgun loaded with unusual ammunition under Wilson's bed, and a witness said Butts had given it to Wilson to hold temporarily, according to the summary.
Butts would be the second inmate executed by Georgia this year. Carlton Gary, convicted of raping and killing three older women and known as the "stocking strangler," was put to death March 15.
Georgia executes inmates by injection of the barbiturate pentobarbital. Since 2013, the Department of Corrections has gotten the drug from a compounding pharmacy whose identity is shielded by state law, and department records from past executions show the drug is generally produced within the two weeks leading up to an execution date.