Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016 12:01 pm EDT
Gregory Paul Lawler was executed by the state of Georgia on Wednesday, October 19, 2016. He was pronounced dead at 11:49 pm EDT, inside the execution chamber at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, Georgia. Gregory was 63 years of age. He was executed for the murder of Atlanta Police Officer John Sowa on October 12, 1997. Gregory spent the last 16 years of his life on Georgia’s death row.
Gregory had, according to his brother and mother, a “normal middle-class childhood.” Gregory had, however, experienced depression and anxiety. After his arrest, he was diagnosed with paranoid personality disorder. There is no record of mental health problems in his family history.
On the evening of Sunday, October 12, 1997, Gregory Lawler and his girlfriend Donna Rodgers were drinking at a bar near their apartment in Atlanta, Georgia. Around 9:00 pm, the couple left the bar to walk home. In the parking lot of a pawn shop, Lawler and Rodgers engaged in argument. A witness reported the altercation to the police, as it appeared that Lawler was striking Rodgers, who was obviously intoxicated.
Officers John Sowa and Patrica Cocciolone responded to the report. They found Rodgers sitting on a curb with Lawler attempting to pull her to her feet. As the police approached, Lawler left the scene. The officers did not pursue, electing to help Rodgers to her home, which she said was only a short distance away.
Rodgers took police to the apartment she shared with Lawler. Lawler had already returned to the apartment. The police escorted Rodgers to the apartment door, as she had difficulty standing. Lawler opened the door after the police knocked and began screaming at the officers to “get the [expletive deleted] away from by door!” Lawler then attempted to shut the door on the police. Officer Sowa put out his hand to stop the door, telling Lawler that they wanted to make sure Rodgers lived at the apartment and would be safe.
Lawler grabbed an AR-15 rifle from next to the door and began firing upon the officers. The officers fled for cover. Several neighbors witnessed the shooting. From shell casings, the police determined that Lawler fired 15 shots - three from inside the apartment and the rest from outside. The bullets used by Lawler were designed to penetrate body armor.
Officer Cocciolone managed to send a radio distress call and more officers arrived at the scene shortly thereafter. Officer Sowa was discover lying next to a parked car near the sidewalk while Officer Cocciolone was collapsed on the front yard. Both still had their pistols snapped in their holsters. Officer Sowa had been shot five times in the back, buttocks, and chest. He was killed almost instantly. Officer Cocciolone was shot three times in the head, arm, and buttocks. She survived with permeant brain damage, among other injuries, and testified against Lawler at his trial.
After a six-hour standoff with police, Lawler surrendered to the police. Multiple weapons were found inside the home and a co-worker testified that Lawler had spoken out against the police, saying he would be ready for the police if they ever tried to enter his home. Lawler was sentenced to death in March of 2000.
Gregory Lawler’s execution was delayed for several hours as the Supreme Court of the United States considered an appeal.
Please pray for peace and healing for the family of John Sowa. Please pray for peace and healing for Patricia Cocciolone, who still suffers from her injuries. Please pray for strength for the family of Gregory.