Man wins right to appeal part of his ‘96 death penalty case

mstucka@macon.comDecember 25, 2013 

Marion Wilson is on Georgia's death row for his role in a Baldwin County murder.

A man facing the death penalty for his role in a brutal Baldwin County slaying will get to tell a court how hard his life had been.

A federal judge granted Marion Wilson Jr. the right to appeal part of his case, in which Wilson will be able to argue that his trial attorneys didn’t properly investigate whether they could build a defense around evidence that Wilson’s early life influenced how he acted.

U.S. District Judge Marc Treadwell, in a 109-page ruling last week, denied other parts of Wilson’s efforts to get the federal courts to intervene in his case. That denial itself can be appealed. Treadwell’s order denies Wilson’s petition for habeas corpus, challenging his imprisonment.

Wilson’s case already went through Georgia courts, including the Georgia Supreme Court. He remains on death row at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison near Jackson.

Wilson and his partner, Robert Earl Butts, were convicted and sentenced to death for their roles in the killing of Donovan Corey Parks on March 28, 1996. Butts and Wilson asked Parks for a ride from the Milledgeville Wal-Mart parking lot.

Parks’ body was found nearby later, face down, with wounds from a sawed-off shotgun blast to his head. Parks was identified by his 1990 high school class ring. Courts concluded that Wilson and Butts took Parks’ car, bought gas in Gray, tried to sell the car in Atlanta, and then set it on fire in Macon the next day. Then they returned to the Wal-Mart to get Butts’ car, where it had been all along.

Butts is pursuing his own federal appeals.

In Wilson’s federal case, Wilson claimed prosecutors switched their stories to claim that both Wilson and Butts had pulled the trigger. Treadwell rejected those and most other arguments.

But Treadwell found that Wilson’s two attorneys were confused about who was going to investigate Wilson’s life to find mitigating information from Wilson’s teachers, social workers and other people.

The court ruling suggests that Wilson was born to a drug-using mother who neglected him, was abandoned by his father, and was physically abused. The family moved frequently, and Wilson saw one of his mother’s boyfriend hold a gun to her head.

That history of mitigating circumstances comes with a long history of what lawyers call aggravating circumstances, according to court documents.

Wilson committed his first serious felony at age 12 when he set a duplex apartment on fire in Glynn County while the neighbors were home. At 15, he saw a passing Mexican migrant and told friends he was going to rob the man and “wanted to see what it felt like to shoot somebody,” witnesses said. After the shooting, he attacked a worker at a regional youth development center.

A day after he shot a dog for no reason, he was charged with possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute. A month after that, he shot a man three times.

Treadwell wrote that a State Court solicitor reported Wilson had been charged with about 10 misdemeanors in just 11 weeks, then showed up at her office with 22 baggies of marijuana.

In a recording played during sentencing, Wilson admitted he was the “chief enforcer” of the Milledgeville FOLKS gang.

The jury returned the death sentence against him in less than two hours.

Treadwell noted that some testimony from defense experts hurt Wilson more than it helped him during his trial.

In pursuing a federal appeal, Wilson’s team of attorneys -- one from the Georgia Resource Center, and six from a Wisconsin law firm -- will have to try to build a case that shows their client in the best light.

With that comes a dark history. In January 1996, Wilson wrote from prison to another gang member: “You know it’s all about that Money, Mackin, Murder, and that should be our main priority; We should be making more money ... and murdering all that oppose our nation, but only when necessary.”

Just a few months later, Parks was dead and Wilson was charged with malice murder.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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