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Old 06-07-2005, 12:38 PM
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Default Past heroic acts give murderer a reprieve

Past heroic acts give murderer a reprieve

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 06/07/05
The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday tossed out the death sentence of a condemned inmate once dubbed a "guardian angel" for saving two people's lives.

The court ordered a new sentencing trial for William Marvin Gulley after finding his trial lawyers failed to show jurors that Gulley had previously rescued two people in Atlanta during a three-day span in 1992.

In 1998, a Dougherty County jury sentenced Gulley to death for the murder of an 81-year-old Albany woman and the rape of her 60-year-old daughter. Gulley, who had broken into the women's house in December 1994 to steal a television, beat both of them with a stick and a shotgun after they returned home and found him inside. He bound Mary Garner and stabbed her in the chest before raping her daughter.

At trial, prosecutors also presented evidence that implicated Gulley in the killing of a 49-year-old woman and her 84-year-old mother in East Point a week before the homicide in Albany. Gulley has never been formally charged with the East Point killings.

Before the Albany trial, Gulley's lawyers became aware of a 1992 Atlanta Constitution article about Gulley's lifesaving heroics. But the lawyers failed to verify the story and never found either of the two survivors or their family members.

Writing for a unanimous court, Justice George Carley said, "It appears none of Gulley's attorneys took responsibility to ensure that the reports of his saving two lives were properly investigated" even though there were "fairly obvious avenues" to pursue.

"Whatever our own opinions may be about the sentencing verdict in this case ? there is a reasonable probability that evidence of Gulley's having saved two persons' lives, at risk to his own life, would have changed that sentencing verdict," Carley wrote.

Gulley was credited with saving co-worker Dan O'Connor's life at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Buckhead after O'Connor struck an electric wire with his power drill as he stood on a ladder. Gulley, who worked as a painter, saw O'Connor convulsing and kicked the ladder away, breaking the contact with the electrical current.

Two days later, Gulley brought flowers to O'Connor at Grady Memorial Hospital where he was being treated at the burn unit. When Gulley got off the 10th-floor elevator, a mentally disturbed patient ran past him, smashed a window and tried to jump. With the help of O'Connor's brother, Gulley pulled the woman inside before she could commit suicide.

Gulley, whose arm was cut during the struggle, was a "guardian angel," O'Connor's wife was quoted as saying.

O'Connor, who worked in the Ritz-Carlton's engineering department, in a sworn statement in 2001 described Gulley as a skilled painter who would not leave work until the job was done.

"I owe Bill Gulley my life," O'Connor said. "I know that Bill Gulley has been convicted of murder and other offenses and is on death row. But I also know that Bill Gulley has saved lives, including my own."

His brother, Richard O'Connor, called Gulley "a man of courage and compassion." In a sworn statement he said, "In Mr. Gulley, we had all met an everyday person willing to extend himself to his fellow man with a true generosity of spirit, dignity and grace, and at no small risk to himself."

Gulley's lawyer in the appeal, Brian Kammer, praised the state Supreme Court's decision. "It affirms that thorough investigation can provide a jury with compelling mitigating evidence that might sway their minds," he said.

Dougherty County District Attorney Ken Hodges expressed disappointment with the ruling. The death sentence is warranted, he said, regardless how many lives Gulley saved.

"Even if he'd saved 30 lives, it doesn't take away the evil that he inflicted on the 13th of December in 1994 ? ," Hodges said. "He committed horrific crimes."

The district attorney's office will talk to members of the victims' family about what to do next, Hodges said. The prosecutor noted that before the trial Gulley was offered the chance to plead guilty and receive a life-without-parole sentence but did not accept the deal before a deadline imposed by the prosecution.

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