Virgil Delano Presnell Jr. killed an 8-year-old girl and raped her 10-year-old friend after abducting them on their way home from school in Cobb County.
ATLANTA — The life of a Georgia man who is set to be executed Tuesday for killing an 8-year-old girl should be spared, his attorney claims, explaining that his client has significant cognitive impairment that likely contributed to his crimes and suffered horrific abuses in prison.
Virgil Delano Presnell Jr., 68, killed the 8-year-old girl and raped her 10-year-old friend after abducting them on their way home from school in Cobb County, just outside Atlanta , May 4, 1976. He was found guilty in August 1976 of charges of malicious murder, kidnapping and rape and sentenced to death. His death sentence was overturned in 1992 but reinstated in March 1999.
“Before society makes a man pay the ultimate price for a crime, it must determine whether his culpability justifies the cost. In Virgil’s case, that’s just not the case. Virgil Presnell is profoundly handicapped,” his attorney Monet Brewerton-Palmer wrote in a clemency petition that was declassified Friday by the State Board of Pardons and Paroles.
The app acknowledges the seriousness of what Presnell did and says it is “deeply and profoundly sorry” for the families of the two girls. He asks the parole board to postpone his execution for 90 days so that the board can consider his request, and then commute his sentence to life without the possibility of parole.
The five-member parole board, which is the only authority in Georgia that can commute a death sentence, scheduled a closed-door clemency hearing on Monday to consider his case.
Presnell’s mother drank copious amounts of alcohol while pregnant with him, and a history of severe developmental disabilities is well documented in her school records, Brewerton-Palmer wrote, adding that he grew up in an “abusive and unstable environment”, and sexual abuse was “endemic” in her family.
Even when he was arrested, his significant cognitive limitations were visible, the clemency petition says. When questioned by police, he confessed to all open crimes against children in the county.
A letter from Adele Grubbs, Presnell’s trial attorney who later became a Superior Court judge, is quoted in the motion: “Virgil was always clear that he meant no harm to one or the other of the girls. The effect on them of being kidnapped was beyond his comprehension. He thought they would have a good time.
The leniency application acknowledges that this sounds unbelievable, but argues that “it doesn’t mean lying.”
“If it sounds so unbelievable, then we have to wonder why anyone would believe it. And the answer is simple: Virgil is deeply brain damaged,” Brewerton-Palmer wrote.
Presnell suffered prenatal brain damage and likely has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, but that was not an available diagnosis at the time of his trial nearly 46 years ago, the clemency application says.
“We didn’t know better in 1976. But we know better today. A just society does not execute people with intellectual disabilities,” he says.
For nearly half a century in prison, Presnell served “hard times,” according to the clemency petition: “His crime was the worst of the worst – and so was his sentence.”
Particularly during her early years on death row, Presnell was “regularly raped, beaten, and deprived,” endured winters without heat or hot water, and sometimes went several years without setting foot outside. , indicates the request for clemency. But despite these difficulties, he “has an unblemished disciplinary past and was a model prisoner”.
A juror from his 1999 trial, quoted in the clemency petition, reportedly said he believed at least six of the jurors, including himself, would have backed a life sentence without parole if it had been an option.
Presnell abducted the two girls as they walked home along a wooded trail from a Cobb County elementary school on May 4, 1976. He drove them to a secluded wooded area, made them strip, and raped the eldest daughter, according to evidence at trial described in a Georgia Supreme Court decision. The girl tried to run, but Presnell grabbed her and drowned her in a stream, according to the decision.
He locked the 10-year-old girl in the trunk of his car then left her in a wooded area when he had a flat tire, saying he would be back. She ran to a nearby gas station and described Presnell and her car with a flat tire to police.
Officers found him changing his tire at his apartment complex. He initially denied everything, but then led police to the body of the 8-year-old girl and confessed, according to the ruling.
Presnell would be the first person executed by Georgia this year and the seventh nationally.