JACKSON, Ga. – The seventh prisoner executed in Georgia this year died Wednesday at a state prison in Jackson following a lethal injection. He’s the man who opened fire on Atlanta police in 1997 that killed one officer and critically wounded another.
Gregory Paul Lawler, 63, was found guilty in the murder of Officer John Sowa, 28 and inflicted life-threatening injuries to Patricia Cocciolone who survived the shooting despite a shattered pelvis, damaged intestines, and permanent brain injury. Cocciolone had been able to testify during Lawler’s trial leading to a death sentence in 2000.
The defense requested to halt the execution, originally set for 7 p.m. However, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously denied the request, the court statement says. Defense lawyers subsequently appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but also declined. Lawler was pronounced dead at 11:49 p.m.
The synopsis of the case said that Lawler and his girlfriend, Donna Rodgers, were walking back to their Atlanta apartment the night of October 1997 after drinking at a bar nearby. A witness who thought he saw Lawler hurting the woman called the attention of police.
When the officers arrived, Lawler fled and left the woman, but the officers helped her get home. Once the woman was inside, Lawler tried shutting the door on the officers, but Sowa kept the door opened and said they just want to make sure the woman was safe. Lawler answered them with bullets, firing at them 15 times. According to prosecutors, Lawler used armor piercing ammunition fired from an AR-15.
When backup arrived, both Sowa and Cocciolone still had their pistols in their holsters. Lawler surrendered after a six-hour standoff, according to court records.
The court record also said that a co-worker testified Lawler had an “extreme dislike” of police and he would be “ready for them” if they ever tried to enter his home.
Defense attorneys used Lawler’s diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder last month to file a petition to the board saying it is the reason why he acted that way during the shooting incident, misinterpreting the officers’ intentions and believing he was in danger. They also referred to it as the reason for his inappropriate behavior during his trial.
The parole board declined to give him clemency Tuesday. The U.S. Supreme Court also denied a last-minute request for suspension of execution.
Photo source: wochit News