COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Carlton Gary has spent more than 8,000 days behind bars waiting for appeals, hoping to be exonerated, dreading his own execution.
He was convicted of killing Kathleen Woodruff, Florence Scheible and Martha Thurmond during a period in the late 1970's when seven elderly women in Columbus were strangled with their hosiery, raped, and murdered.
For the first time since his conviction 24 years ago, Gary speaks publicly about his case, the night of his arrest, and why he still maintains his innocence almost a quarter of a century after he was sentenced to death.
The big question is simple, yet has never been publicly answered by the man convicted and demonized for three of the Columbus Stocking Stranglings.
Q: Did you kill the women that you are currently on death row for?
A: "Of course not. You know, if I had, I promise you, as my mother before she died, she made it known that my son is a man. If he had, he would plead guilty, because there would be something terribly wrong with him. And I tried beforehand to find travel dates to show that I hadn't even gotten to Columbus at the particular time, as one of the witnesses said, when she saw me, at least three of these cases had already taken place."
Throughout our 25 minute interview, Gary, as you might imagine, maintained his innocence -- as he has from day one.
Citing a corrupt Columbus Police Department and a fear of those in power in the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, Gary still questions the validity of his arrest and alleged confession to the murders.
Q: They say that your fingerprints were at some of the crime scenes and that you were at some of the crime scenes and the night you were arrested, you rode with Detective Sellers across parts of Columbus...
A: "I was coming out of a cocaine and marijuana and alcohol...and they took me out somewhere, they knew I was withdrawing from those symptoms, strangely, they did not come up with my toxicology report, when they turned it around and arrested me, the toxicology report removed because it would have showed that I was coming off all these drugs and things and I was under the influence of at that time. Of course, that would taint any alleged confession that I gave, which was not signed by me or initialed by me, but even if I didn't do it, why didn't the police do it?"
Gary went on to say that the arresting officers Detective Mike Sellers and Ricky Boren, who currently serves as Chief of Police in Columbus did not even initial or sign the confession themselves --- an issue Gary's attorneys brought up at trial.
Another topic Gary and I discussed was the day of his scheduled execution last December.
Q: I want to go back to December 16th really quickly and ask you about the emotions of that day, being granted the stay of execution by the Georgia State Supreme Court, just hours before you were slated to be executed. What was that day like?
A: "It's actually impossible to describe. The only thing we did was thank God above. We just thank him for that."
Q: "I'm curious to know what your life has been like for the last 30 years, since the arrest and trial...and having been in Jackson now for the last 24 years I guess. What is...?
A: "All the years with my wife has been excellent. You know by the grace of God, it's been excellent by the grace of God throughout all of the turmoil, the ups the downs and you know, it's the thought of heaven that keeps us going, keeps us sustained, but on this earth, it's my wife, because without her, I'm absolutely nothing."
The latest development for Carlton Gary surrounds DNA testing.
Gary is confident the results will prove his innocence.
"I just don't want people to think that I have ever been against the testing itself. This was never our design to say that we are against the testing. Our concern has always been, where has this stuff been for 30-something years or 20-something years, since I've been sentenced here," Gary said.
He's talking about evidence collected from the 1970's crime scenes that had supposedly been destroyed --- thought of as a bio-hazard.
Instead, the evidence, re-appeared in 2001.
Four pieces of evidence will be tested against his DNA to see if they match, or if they don't.
Q: What happens if the DNA evidence comes back and implicates you in the murders?
A: "You'd have to talk to the lawyers about that. I have no idea. I'm not...it's no way. I've never feared that anyway. The only way that could possibly happen is if there is substitution of this stuff.
Q: So you say the only way that it could come back and implicate you in the murders is if it has been tainted?
A: "This has always been our position. We have never shied away from any of this stuff. We have never, ever, shied away from anything and I have told each and every lawyer that has been on this case the very same thing."
Court documents from a 1994 habeas corpus hearing indicate Carlton Gary had initially asked for the DNA to be tested.
When that evidence was located in 2001, defense attorneys viewed it.
It took until after a death warrant was issued and an execution date was set until the defense filed another motion for DNA testing.
Q: Why, in your estimation, has it taken so long to get to this point, where we finally have DNA testing?
A: "The state continues to lie. It has not been the defense delaying this stuff as you just alluded to. We have asked for this from day one. We have always asked for it, but the public has been saying it's us. But look at the court records, just like you just quoted, and look at the order that I just talked about. The courts have handed down...they still haven't turned over anything because some of these people under oath have said they destroyed these things. When they asked when, they explained it was destroyed before I was arrested, pre-trial. This is what the state said, not the defense."