Carlton Gary Case: Where is the DNA?

By Andrew Wittenberg  - bio | email | Twitter

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - In 1977 and 1978, the city of Columbus was brought to its knees by the brutal rape and murder of seven elderly women.

After years of investigation, Columbus Police arrested Carlton Gary for the crimes in 1984.

Tonight, the victim's families and Gary's family are still seeking resolution.

Convicted of murder in three of the seven Columbus 'stocking stranglings,' Gary has spent 24 years on Georgia's death row.

This time last year, his fate looked to be sealed.

A death warrant was issued and signed.

That set a series of events in motion, that for Gary, literally mean life or death.

Having spent nearly half his life behind bars for murder, December 3rd, 2009 was perhaps the worst day of Carlton Gary's life.

With a death warrant signed, Gary would be executed by lethal injection in less than two weeks.

On December 16th, hours before his scheduled death, a stay from the Georgia State Supreme Court.

"We always thought there was plenty of other reasons why Carlton Gary should get a new trial, there was other evidence which pointed to his innocence," Gary's defense attorney Jack Martin said.

That was last December, outside the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, minutes after the stay of execution was ordered.

"We believed the courts would see that, but you know when that failed, this was our last alternative, I admit it, it was our last alternative," Martin said.

The state's high court granted a motion for a hearing regarding DNA evidence, even after the state's clemency board denied that request.

District Attorney Julia Slater and Martin reached an agreement on items to be DNA tested on February 19th.

It was confirmed during a March 23rd hearing, with Gary in the courtroom.

Gary's wife, Debra, says she considered the testing agreement, a victory.

"We have to continue to trust God like we always have and trust that what has happened before for us to be in this position won't happen again," Gary said.

The crime scene evidence was taken to Atlanta to be tested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

It had been a fast and furious four month period and appeared to be picking up steam toward a resolution in this case.

Since then, relative silence.

That was almost eight months ago to the day, some thirty years after this area near Lakebottom Park was terrorized by the stocking stranglings.

Now, both sides, district attorney Julia Slater and Martin say this is a very complex issue.

The experts say trying to find a DNA profile from the crime scene evidence is about like trying to find a particular paper clip, in a stack of paper clips.

The DNA Diagnostics Center in Ohio says a common test requires one nanogram of DNA to establish a profile of who it belongs to in criminal cases.

A paper clip weighs one gram.

What scientists are doing in the Carlton Gary case, essentially, involves breaking items the size of a paper clip this into one billion pieces, and sort through them until they find a match, if they find one at all.

When WTVM reached out to the attorneys handling the case, neither were very forthcoming with any new information.

Martin wouldn't go on camera, but said his team is crossing T's and dotting I's.

Slater says this is all simply part of the judicial process.

"DNA tests are never returned in a two and a half minute commercial break like they are on TV. These things do take a considerable amount of time for the scientists that are performing the tests," Slater said.

And that, to the dismay of the victim's families and the family of Carlton Gary is where this story ends for now.

There are no DNA results yet, with both sides telling WTVM there is no timetable for them to be released.

WTVM also submitted an open records request to the GBI to obtain any lab results in the case, but that request was denied.

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