Georgia Supreme Court denies appeal of convicted murder, rapist on death row

Virgil Delano Presnell Jr. (Georgia Department of Corrections)

The Georgia Supreme Court denied an appeal for a death row inmate after a lawyer argued he has cognitive impairments that contributed to his crimes.

Virgil Delano Presnell Jr., 68, was sentenced to death on May 17 for the alleged murder of an 8-year-old Lori Ann Smith and rape of her 10-year-old friend after abducting them in May 1976 as they walked home from school in Cobb County. Presnell’s execution order has expired, so his motion to stay was dismissed by the court.

A separate case between the Federal Defender Program, which represents Presnell, and the state is still pending.

judge halted his execution in May after the State Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency for Presnell after "thoroughly considering all the facts and circumstances of the case."

"Before society makes a man pay the ultimate price for a crime, it must determine if his culpability justifies the cost. In Virgil’s case, it simply does not. Virgil Presnell is profoundly disabled," his attorney Monet Brewerton-Palmer wrote in a clemency application.

Brewerton-Palmer said in the clemency application that Presnell's mother drank alcohol while pregnant with the now-accused man and left him "profoundly brain damaged." Presnell’s lawyers argued his execution would be unconstitutional because he has cognitive impairments that cause him to function like a young child.

The victims' families say they still feel the pain of Presnell's crimes more than 40 years later. Lisa Smith, Lori’s older sister, said in her statement to the parole board, a copy of which the family provided to the AP, "Presnell has left wounds that will never heal." Their father, Scott Smith, told the parole board that "the grief is as fresh today as it was 46 years ago when she was brutally murdered and taken from her family."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.