Georgia prepares to execute man convicted in beating death


JACKSON, Ga. (AP) — Georgia is preparing to execute a death row inmate convicted of beating another man to death while trying to steal his car keys after a night of drinking and drug use.

Joshua Bishop is scheduled to die at 7 p.m. Thursday at the state prison in Jackson by injection of the barbiturate pentobarbital. The 41-year-old inmate was convicted in the June 1994 killing of Leverett Morrison in Milledgeville.

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles issued an order Thursday morning denying Bishop clemency, a day after a hearing on the request. As is customary, the board didn’t provide any reason for its denial other than its members considered the facts and circumstances of the case.

The board is Georgia’s only entity authorized to commute a death sentence.

Bishop’s lawyers also turned to the courts for relief.

To sentence him to death, jurors were required to find that Bishop “killed, intended to kill, or intended to aid in the killing” of Morrison, his lawyers argued.

The judge’s instructions to the jury prior to sentencing were ambiguous and the jury failed to make the necessary findings of fact, his lawyers argued. For that reason, his death sentence is unconstitutional and his execution would “constitute a miscarriage of justice,” they wrote in court filings.

A Superior Court judge in Butts County, where Georgia’s death row is located, and the Georgia Supreme Court rejected that challenge. Bishop’s lawyers are appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bishop spent June 19, 1994, drinking and using drugs with Morrison and a third man, Mark Braxley. They drank at a bar that evening and then went to Braxley’s trailer, where they continued to drink and use drugs.

Morrison fell asleep and Braxley decided he wanted to take Morrison’s Jeep to visit his girlfriend and instructed Bishop to take his keys. Morrison woke up as Bishop was trying to take his keys from his pocket, and Bishop hit him over the head with a piece of a closet rod to knock him out, according to court filings.

Bishop told investigators he and Braxley both beat Morrison and, once they realized he was dead, they dumped his body between two trash bins and burned his Jeep.

Bishop told investigators he and Braxley also had killed another man, Ricky Willis, about two weeks earlier, also at Braxley’s trailer. Bishop told police he repeatedly punched Willis after Willis bragged he had sexually assaulted Bishop’s mother and then Braxley cut Willis’ throat, killing him.

Bishop and Braxley were both charged with murder and armed robbery in Morrison’s death. After a trial, a jury convicted Bishop and sentenced him to die. Braxley pleaded guilty and got life in prison. He’s been denied parole twice and will next be eligible for consideration next year.

While Bishop confessed to his involvement in both killings, his lawyers argue that Braxley, who was 36 at the time, was the instigator and exerted his influence over Bishop, who was 19.

Bishop’s lawyers also have said he had an extremely rough childhood, with a mother who constantly drank and used drugs and had a weakness for abusive men who beat her and her sons. He bounced between foster families and group homes and was homeless at times, they said.

Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee, whose office investigated the killings of Morrison and Willis, acknowledged that Bishop had a tough home life but said the slayings were very violent and that he believes Bishop was the most aggressive. Massee said he also met this week with two daughters and a son of Morrison, who said they want Bishop to be executed.