A judge on Tuesday delayed the execution of a Georgia death row inmate convicted of murdering an Albany woman after his attorneys asked for more DNA testing.
Marcus Ray Johnson was set to die on Wednesday for the 1994 rape and murder of Angela Sizemore, but Dougherty County Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette halted the execution after hearing several hours of arguments.
It would have been the first execution in Georgia since Troy Davis was put to death two weeks ago in a case that garnered international protest after several witnesses disputed the testimony that helped convict him of killing a Savannah police officer in 1989.
Johnson's defense attorney Brian Kammer said he was pleased with the decision. Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards said he plans to appeal the ruling.
Edwards said he is "100 percent sure" that Marcus Ray Johnson raped and stabbed Angela Sizemore to death outside an Albany nightclub in March 1994, and appeals courts have upheld his conviction and death sentence.
Johnson's defense attorneys counter that there are "troubling inconsistencies" in the evidence presented at trial, and claim eyewitness statements that linked him to the crime are unreliable.
They asked Lockette to order more DNA testing on samples collected at the scene, including saliva samples, fingernail clippings and several hairs collected from the crime scene that defense attorneys say wasn't tested.
Prosecutors say Sizemore and Johnson were together the night of March 23, 1994, at an Albany nightclub called Fundamentals, where Johnson was playing pool. The two were both drinking heavily, witnesses said, and soon they were spotted kissing in one of the booths. They were seen leaving the bar early the next morning, and headed south toward a bar where Johnson had worked.
The next day, a man walking his dog discovered her battered body inside her white SUV parked behind an Albany apartment complex. She had been stabbed 41 times with a small, dull knife and suffered severe internal injuries when she was sexually assaulted with a pecan tree branch.
Police quickly honed in on Johnson, and two witnesses told investigators they saw Johnson walking from the area where the victim's SUV was parked. He was arrested less than 24 hours after the killing.
Johnson told authorities he led Sizemore to a grassy vacant lot where they had consensual sex, and that he then "kind of lost it" and punched her in the face during an argument. But Johnson said he immediately left after the argument and headed home to collapse on his front yard, where he woke up the next morning. He insisted that he did not kill her.
DNA testing matched the victim's blood to Johnson's leather jacket, and authorities said his pocketknife matched the wounds discovered on her body. He also had scratches on his hands, arms and neck. But Johnson's lawyers say he wasn't involved in the brutality that claimed her life. They say investigators never found her blood on his knife, and only trace amounts of blood on his jacket.
The judge's decision throws the execution into uncertainty. Lockette set a new hearing for February, but the lethal injection could still move forward this week if an appeals court overturns the decision. Edwards, the prosecutor, said he planned to file his appeal immediately.
"We certainly disagree with the judge's ruling," he said. "We believe the jury has spoken and that the evidence is clear."