The Georgia Supreme Court has thrown out the conviction and death sentence of a Macon County man convicted 12 years ago of killing a bank vice president.
In a unanimous 41-page decision, the court said evidence in the case supported a lower courts conclusion that Artemus Rick Walker was incompetent due to mental illness when he was tried and convicted of the 1999 murder of Lynwood Ray Gresham.
It was the second time the case had been before the states high court. When Walkers case first came up for appeal, the state Supreme Court upheld his death sentence and murder conviction.
According to the evidence at his trial, Walker devised a plan to rob Gresham, who was vice president of a bank next door to the service station Walker owned. Several days beforehand, Walker hired Gary Lee Griffin to work at his service station. He asked Griffin if he would help him rob and kill a rich man.
On May 12, 1999, Walker borrowed a car and drove with Griffin to his hotel, where they picked up Griffins bicycle before driving to Walkers apartment. Walker gave Griffin black pants, a knife and a stun gun. Both men changed into black clothing, then loaded their bicycles into the automobile, according to a summary of the case that the court provided.
Walker drove to a place near Greshams house where they parked, then rode their bicycles to Greshams house. Griffin waited at the side of the house as Walker went to the door and began talking to Gresham, then struggling with him.
Moments later, Walker stabbed Gresham 12 times in the chest and back, according to the case summary. Walker dragged Gresham to the side of the house, where he died.
Both men were arrested and charged within hours of the attack. The victims blood was on Walkers clothes, and he had the victims keys.
In 2002, a Macon County jury convicted Walker of malice murder, felony murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault, attempted burglary and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He was sentenced to death plus a life term and 35 years in prison.
In 2007, when the case came up on direct appeal, the court unanimously upheld Walkers convictions and sentence.
In another round of appeals in 2009, a Butts County judge ruled in Walkers favor, however, finding that Walker was denied his constitutional right to due process by being tried while incompetent.
The Butts County judge found that Walkers trial attorneys were concerned about his mental health and secured funds and made arrangements for Walker to be examined by a psychologist. But when Walker refused, the attorneys abandoned their efforts to have his mental health evaluated.
The state may retry Walker, but only if he is competent at the time of retrial, the court said. The charges against Walker are still intact.