Friday, April 19, 2024

Georgia Execution of Virgil Presnell Will Not Proceed on May 17, 2022

Virgil Presnell, Jr., Georgia

Updated: Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Virgil PresnellGeorgia planed to execute Virgil Presnell, Jr., on Tuesday, May 17, 2022, at 7 pm local time in the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, Georgia.  His execution was halted. Sixty-eight-year-old Virgil Delano Presnell, Jr., is convicted of raping and murdering eight-year-old Lori Ann Smith on May 4, 1976. Virgil has spent the last 45 years on death row in Georgia. He is the longest-serving death row inmate in the state.

Virgil alleges that he suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome, as he claims his mother drank excessively while she was pregnant with him. His mother also smoked a pack of cigarettes a day while she was pregnant. When Virgil was six weeks old, he fell off a changing table, resulting in his face being flattened and his nose bleeding. Virgil often stayed with his grandmother while his mother worked. He lacked a strong male role model during his life. Virgil also failed two or three years in school.

Beginning at the age of 14, Virgil was known for grabbing girls and attempting to reach under their dresses. Virgil had spent time in youth rehabilitation facilities and, later, in prison for various crimes. He had also kidnapped and sexually assaulted several other young girls in the months leading up to his kidnapping and murder of Lori Smith.

On May 3, 1976, a woman witnessed a man, later identified as Virgil Presnell, Jr., return to his vehicle a short distance away from the school. The woman was picking up her children from the school. Presnell would later confess to the police that he would often walk to a wooded area across from the school and watch the young girls through binoculars while engaging in self-gratifying behavior. In the past weeks, he had also read pornographic books about children and adult men.

The next day on May 4, 1976, the same woman again saw Presnell. Presnell, according to his confession, returned to the same wooded area. He brought with him a sleeping bag, a rug, a jar of lubricant, and rope. Two young schoolgirls, ages eight and ten, entered the wooded area, following a path through the wooded area to their homes. Presnell grabbed both girls from behind and covered their mouths with his hands. He threatened to kill them if they did not do as he told them. Presnell took them to his car and drove away.

The mother of the youngest girl became concerned when she did not return home. The mother checked the school and then began walking the path her daughter followed home. Along the path, she found the school books of the older girl. She immediately notified the police, her husband, and the school principal.

Meanwhile, Presnell drove the girls to a secluded area, stopping once to refuel. At the secluded area, he raped the older girl, severely injuring her. As he took the younger child back to the car, she attempted to escape. Presnell caught her near a stream, where he held her under until she stopped kicking. Presnell laid her down next to the creek. He then took the older child and placed her in the trunk of his vehicle. After one of his vehicle’s tires lost air pressure, Presnell left the older child in a wooded area near a service station while he drove to his mother’s house.

The child was able to seek help at the service station. She then told police that the man who took her drove a blue car and had tire trouble. Presnell was found by the police installing a new tire on his car.

Although he confessed to the crimes, Presnell testified that he did not know what he was doing was wrong. He explained that because the children did not protest, he did not think what he was doing was wrong. Presnell also testified that his urge to seek out young girls came from consuming pornographic movies and books about adult men and young girls.

Presnell was convicted and sentenced to death approximately five months after the crime.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has denied clemency to Virgil Presnell.  Attorneys for Virgil have filed an appeal seeking to halt his scheduled execution.  They are arguing that Virgil’s execution violates a written agreement from the state Attorney General’s Office. 

The night before Virgil was scheduled to be executed, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shermela Williams granted an injunction halting the execution. Attorneys for Presnell argued that the scheduling of Presnell’s execution violated a post-pandemic agreement with the attorney general’s office. According to Presnell’s attorneys, the attorney general’s office agreed no executions would take place until six months after three conditions were met: 1) the end of a coronavirus judicial emergency, 2) the resumption of normal visiting rights, and 3) the availability of a vaccine “to all members of the public”. Presnell’s attorney argued that two of the conditions have not yet been met, as children under five are still ineligible to receive the vaccine and that the prison is still using a modified visiting policy. Attorneys for the state of Georgia argued that the agreement was not a binding contract and that they had “substantially complied” with the agreement.

Additionally, attorneys for Presnell argued that they had not been given enough time to prepare for the clemency hearing before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, including time to arrange expert witnesses. Judge Williams ultimately agreed with Presnell’s attorneys and halted the execution. Georgia appealed the ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court.  Under state law, execution warrants are valid for a seven-day period.  Since the Georgia Supreme Court did not rule within that seven-day period, a new execution warrant must be sought.

Pray for peace and healing for the family of Lori Smith. Pray for healing for all who have been harmed by Virgil Presnell. Please pray for the strength for the family of Virgil. Pray that if Virgil is innocent, lacks the competency to be executed, or should not be executed for any other reason that evidecne will be previded before his execution. Pray that Virgil may come to find peace through a personal relationship with the Lord.

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