ATLANTA - Georgia's Board of Pardons and Paroles on Wednesday spared the life of an inmate facing scheduled execution, commuting the condemned man's sentence the day before he was to be put to death.
Tommy Lee Waldrip, 68, was scheduled to be executed Thursday night for the April 1991 slaying of a store clerk who was set to testify in court against Waldrip's son. After a hearing Wednesday, the board ordered that Waldrip's sentence be commuted to life without parole.
The board did not give any explanation for its decision in the order, saying only that it had reviewed and considered all the facts and circumstances of the case, as well as arguments for and against clemency. It is customary for the board not to give the reasons for its decisions in such cases.
Lawyers for Waldrip weren't available by phone and did not immediately return an after-hours email seeking comment Wednesday. Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, said his office had no comment.
Waldrip is only the fifth death row inmate to have a sentence commuted by the Parole Board since 2002. The last time it happened was in the case of Daniel Greene, who was spared execution on April 20, 2012.
Waldrip had been on death row for two decades. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1994 for the April 1991 slaying of 23-year-old Keith Evans in Dawson County. His son and brother-in-law were also convicted in the killing and are serving life sentences.
At 68, Waldrip would have been the oldest person executed in Georgia since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to an online database kept by the Death Penalty Information Center. The oldest inmate executed in Georgia since reinstatement was Robert Newland, who was put to death in 2009 at age 65, according to the database.
Evans was a store clerk in Forsyth County and had testified in the 1990 armed robbery trial of Waldrip's son, John Mark Waldrip. The younger Waldrip was convicted, but he was granted a new trial and released on bond, according to Georgia Supreme Court records from Tommy Lee Waldrip's case. Evans was set to testify in the retrial.
On April 13, 1991, several days before the new trial, John Mark Waldrip called another witness and threatened to harm him if he testified.
Later that evening, Tommy Lee Waldrip, his son and his brother-in-law Howard Livingston ran Evans' truck off the road at a highway crossing in Dawson County and fired a shotgun through the windshield, hitting him in the face and neck, authorities said. Evans was still alive and the men drove him in his truck to another location, where they beat him to death, authorities said. Evans' body was buried in a shallow grave in Gilmer County and his truck was set on fire.
Authorities found an insurance card for Tommy Lee Waldrip's wife's car near the burned truck. Waldrip denied any involvement in Evans' disappearance in an interview the next day. But he was arrested days after that and later confessed to shooting and beating Evans and burning his truck. Authorities said he led them to Evans' body and the shotgun.
The next day, he said his son and brother-in-law had killed Evans and burned the truck and that he was just a bystander. In a third statement, he said all three of them were involved, authorities said.