On January 29, 2020, Georgia executed Donnie Lance for the 1997 murders of his ex-wife and her boyfriend in Jackson County, reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Time of death was 9:05 p.m.
Lance, 65, who was sentenced to death in 1999, was given a lethal injection of pentobarbital at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.
He declined to make a final statement, to hear a final prayer. He’d already spent the day praying with family, including his adult kids, who had tried to stop the state from executing him for the deaths of their mother, Joy Lance, 39, and her boyfriend, Dwight “Butch” Wood Jr., 33.
Lance closed his eyes as the warden finished reading the death warrant.
The drug began to flow at about 8:54 p.m.
At 8:56 p.m., Lance blew out a large puff of air. A woman in the front row cried. Lance’s mouth came open, but he barely moved except for wiggling his toes occasionally.
By 9 p.m., the color had drained from Lance’s face. Moments later, his arms and hands, which were strapped to the gurney, became pale.
He was gone.
FUTILE COURT FIGHTS
The U.S. Supreme Court denied Lance’s final appeals at roughly 8:15 p.m., clearing the way for his execution.
The high court, in two separate orders, declined to hear Lance’s requests that it halt his execution on grounds of alleged prosecution misconduct and lower-court rulings that denied his request for DNA testing.
One of Lance’s filings to the nation’s highest court said if his grand jury was not randomly selected, “his death sentence is invalid and unconstitutional.”
Wednesday afternoon, in a brief order, the Georgia Supreme Court turned down a similar appeal. The justices said Lance’s motion was “lacking arguable merit.” The vote was 8-0, with Justice Sarah Warren disqualified from the case because she had worked for the state Attorney General’s Office.
Before Wednesday’s filing in the U.S. Supreme Court, Lance’s legal team filed a separate appeal before the high court. The other appeal challenges lower court rulings that denied Lance's request for DNA testing of the state's evidence.
The nation’s highest court rejected both appeals.
Lance’s attorneys have also argued that the jury that convicted him and sentenced him to death should have known he had brain damage and an IQ that makes him borderline intellectually disabled.
Lance has maintained his innocence, and his grown children have spent months unsuccessfully calling for DNA testing on case evidence to confirm whether he killed their mother.
FAMILY’S FINAL VISIT
Stephanie Cape and her brother Jessie Lance visited their dad Wednesday afternoon and shared old stories and memories, trying not to think about his fate. The siblings said they’d both been thinking a lot about what their mother would think of the situation.
"I can't imagine any mother would want this to happen," Jessie Lance told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Just let us keep our dad."
Stephanie Cape had her last embrace with her father. He told her to remember that just because he's leaving doesn't mean he's going anywhere.
Donnie Lance told his kids he had been saved and intended to go to heaven with all their other lost family members.
The siblings had spent their lives with a cavernous void where their mother should’ve been. Their father filled it best he could, they said, by offering advice and encouragement.
The siblings know that other relatives of the victims wanted their father dead. But Stephanie Cape said — and her brother agreed — that the two of them were the only ones with something left to lose in the case. “Everybody else has already lost all they’re going to lose,” the daughter said.
What could those who wanted Donnie Lance dead gain from his death? Tammy Dearing, Wood’s sister, explained moments after she walked out of the death chamber: “I feel relief this is over, no more worries about appeals — we got our justice.”
THE TERRIBLE CRIME
Lance’s death marks the end to a complex and emotionally trying saga.
It began on Nov. 8, 1997, when Joy Lance, who had worked as a secretary at a trucking company, was savagely beaten to death. Her boyfriend, Wood, a truck driver and father of three, was shot in the back with a shotgun. The bodies were found at Wood’s home in the Maysville area, and police brought Donnie Lance in for questioning within hours.
Donnie Lance’s attorneys noted there was no physical evidence on him, in spite of the bloody nature of his ex-wife’s beating. The lawyers asked for DNA testing on wood fragments from what is believed to be the butt of the shotgun and a fingerprint from a shotgun shell found at the scene.
Jackson County District Attorney Brad Smith and state attorneys have said the evidence against Lance, “although circumstantial, was overwhelming.” Prosecutors maintain Lance was abusive to his ex-wife for years before the murders. Witnesses said they’d heard Donnie Lance threaten to kill her if she divorced him and became involved with Wood.
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