Family pleads for Monroe County killer’s life

mlee@macon.comFebruary 19, 2013 

ATLANTA -- More than a dozen people testified at the state Board of Pardons and Paroles on Tuesday, asking for Georgia to cancel Thursday’s scheduled execution of Monroe County killer Andrew Cook.

Cook’s family, friends, spiritual advisers, doctors and others asked the five-member board for clemency for Cook, convicted of the 1995 double murder of Mercer University students Michele Cartagena, 19, and Grant Hendrickson, 22.

Attorneys for Cook, now 38, declined to comment, but they confirmed that they will pursue other avenues to preserve their client’s life if the board turns them down. Cook is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Thursday. The board’s decision is expected Wednesday.

One of those options is a direct appeal to the state Supreme Court. But by a 5-2 vote Tuesday, the court upheld the death penalty in the case of Warren Lee Hill, 53, a man convicted of committing murder in prison, where he was serving time in the shooting death of his girlfriend. Tuesday night, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted Hill a stay of execution.

Advocates for Cook’s victims pushed for the sentence to stand.

“The evidence was overwhelming of his guilt,” said Richard Milam, district attorney for the Towaliga Judicial Circuit, who argued against clemency at the board hearing. “In addition to that, it was one of the more aggravated murders you could have.”

Hendrickson’s mother, father and uncle gave statements during the hearing, Milam said.

Cook was found guilty of choosing the couple at random at Lake Juliette about 12:30 a.m. Jan. 3, 1995, and unloading two guns into their car, killing them both.

He was sentenced to death for killing Cartagena and life without parole for Hendrickson’s slaying.

The board may decide to grant clemency, which would convert Cook’s death sentence to life without parole. Or it could deny clemency or stay the execution for up to 90 days. The hearing was closed to the public.

Anti-death penalty activist Mary Palmer Legare is hoping for clemency.

The veteran organizer is putting together a vigil for Cook, scheduled for Thursday evening at Macon City Hall.

“I don’t think that our government should have the power to kill any of its citizens,” she said. “I think that brutalizes the entire system.”

Legare, pursuing her doctorate, is also a Mercer student. She said the murders strike close to home in Macon, and she herself is no stranger to fear of crime.

“If I felt that this would make us safer, then I would not be opposed to capital punishment,” she said, but she argued that executing one killer does not make the community safer.

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