Originally created 11/05/01

Pace picks back up on death row



Augusta native Jose High has spent more time awaiting death than he has lived as a free person.

Twenty-two years after a Taliaferro County jury sentenced him to death, Mr. High, 43, is scheduled to die Tuesday night by lethal injection at the Georgia state prison in rural Jackson.

The sentence will be carried out unless the state Board of Pardons and Parole grants clemency today.

Mr. High will be the second convicted murderer executed in Georgia since the state switched to lethal injection after the state Supreme Court ruled the electric chair unconstitutional. Mr. High has no appeals left, although he may petition the Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute his sentence.

A third death row inmate is set to die next week, and four others are at the end of the appeal process, including Alexander Williams, sentenced to death in Richmond County in 1986. Three other death row inmates are in the final stage of appeals.

Mr. High was sentenced to death for the July 26, 1976, slaying of 11-year-old Bonnie Bulloch. The boy and his stepfather were kidnapped after a robbery, taken to an isolated road and shot. Henry Phillips survived, but Bonnie's wound was fatal.

"It's strange how I feel so close to (Bonnie) and never met him," District Attorney Dennis Sanders said. He was an assistant prosecutor, three years out of law school, when he helped prosecute Mr. High. Bonnie's picture still sits on his desk.

Mr. Sanders will be among the witnesses Tuesday evening.

"I've seen a lot of murder cases ... seen ridiculous killings, but nothing like this, the killing for no reason," Mr. Sanders said. A death sentence isn't proper for every murder, but it is for those that are so inhuman no other punishment is enough, he said.

"If not this one, what type of case then? It's not a pleasant thing," Mr. Sanders said of Mr. High's execution. "It won't be pleasant for me to go. But it's my duty."

Mr. High was last scheduled to die in March, but was granted a stay of execution by state Supreme Court justices who were grappling with questions about whether the electric chair is cruel and inhuman punishment.

Several stays of execution were granted to death row inmates this year and last year. Among the stays was one granted to Mr. Williams, now 33, who was sentenced to death in Richmond County for the March 4, 1986, murder of Aleta Bunch, 16.

But with the method of execution cleared by the Supreme Court, those out of appeals have been given execution dates. Michael Mincey, 41, was the first to die by lethal injection, on Oct. 25, for the April 1982 murder of convenience store clerk Paulette Riggs, 38, who was shot to death after she had given him money from a cash register.

Mr. Mincey's execution went according to procedures set by the state's Department of Corrections, spokesman Scott Stallings said. It was over within 30 minutes, he said.

The corrections staff researched lethal injection, traveled to other states carrying out such executions, and then trained and practiced for the procedure, Mr. Stallings said. "Our job is to carry out the mandates of the court," he said.

The mood on death row has become a little more somber, Mr. Stallings said he was told by staff at the prison.

With the hiatus over because of last month's court decision on the method of executions, the pace will speed up, Mr. Stallings said.

After Mr. High comes 63-year-old Fred M. Gilreath Jr., who is scheduled to die Nov. 14 for the murders of his estranged wife and her father, Linda Gilreath and Gerrit W. VanLeevwen, on May 11, 1979. Both were shot repeatedly with two weapons. Some of the wounds were inflicted after death.

Mr. Williams, who came within two days of execution in August 2000, has a final plea before the Georgia Supreme Court pending and a request before the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute his sentence to life in prison.

Like Mr. High, Mr. Williams has spent more time on death row than he spent in freedom, when as a teen-ager he kidnapped 16-year-old Aleta and took her to an isolated wooded area, then robbed and raped her before shooting her to death.

Also on death row with a final appeal pending is Tracy L. Housel, now 43, who was sentenced to death in February 1986 in Gwinnett County for the murder of Jean D. Drew, 46.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.