JACKSON, Ga. - A Georgia man convicted of murdering one of the followers of his white supremacist group insisted that he was not to blame for the killing shortly before he was put to death Wednesday evening.
William Mark Mize, 52, said the legal system refused to accept that another one of his followers may have been responsible for the 1994 murder of Eddie Tucker, who was shot to death after he failed to follow Mize's orders.
"I saw my friend killed by another friend," he said. "I'm here because of a travesty of justice."
Mize's attorneys have argued that the execution should be delayed because of lingering doubt over Mize's role in the killing. They also said the state introduced "inflammatory, irrelevant evidence" about Mize's racist beliefs to prejudice the jury.
Prosecutors said Mize is an unrepentant killer who led Tucker into the woods in Oconee County and shot him in the head with a shotgun after he didn't destroy a house in nearby Athens that Mize wanted burned to the ground.
The execution was initially scheduled for Tuesday, but the Georgia Supreme Court issued a temporary stay because of a technical legal error. After a lower court judge fixed the issue, the execution was reset.
Mize was the leader of a small white supremacist group called the National Vastilian Aryan Party - which prosecutors say was similar to the Ku Klux Klan - when Tucker applied to join the group.
Mize ordered Tucker and another supporter, Chris Hattrup, to set the house on fire the night of Oct. 15, 1994, as an initiation of sorts, and the group stopped at a convenience store to buy lighter fluid, prosecutors said.
When the two failed to burn down the house, prosecutors said Mize turned to Hattrup and said, "you know what we have to do." The two led Tucker into the woods in rural Oconee County, where Hattrup shot him in the back and the chest.
Mize, prosecutors said, fired the fatal shot to the head.
A jury convicted him of murder in 1995 and during the sentencing phase, Mize took the stand and told jurors he wanted no other sentence but death. It took the panel less than a day to grant his request.
Mize's lawyers have filed appeals contending that Hattrup, who is serving life in prison after pleading guilty to murder, claimed that he fired the third and final shot amid a drunken rage.
Appellate courts, though, have dismissed Hattrup's testimony as contradictory and inconsistent. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals found in a 2008 ruling that Hattrup either has an incomplete memory or, at worst, he "is lying in order to help his friend Mize."
Mize, in his final statement to a room of about 25 witnesses, accused the Oconee County sheriff's office of setting him up. He said Hattrup tried to take responsibility "but the courts have never heard him."
"It's on their hands, not mine," he said.
Still, he said, he was at peace with his fate as he delivered his final words.