Time set for execution of Georgia man convicted of killing 8-year-old

Virgil Delano Presnell Jr. (Georgia Department of Corrections)

Officials have scheduled the execution for a Georgia man next week for the killing an 8-year-old girl 46 years ago.

Virgil Delano Presnell Jr., 68, is scheduled to die May 17 at 7 p.m. at the state prison in Jackson by injection of the sedative pentobarbital. He killed the 8-year-old girl and raped her 10-year-old friend after abducting them as they walked home from school in Cobb County, just outside Atlanta, on May 4, 1976.

He was convicted in August 1976 on charges including malice murder, kidnapping and rape and was sentenced to death. His death sentence was overturned in 1992 but was reinstated in March 1999.

Presnell abducted the two girls as they walked home along a wooded trail from a Cobb County elementary school on May 3, 1976. He drove them to a secluded wooded area, had them undress and raped the older girl, according to evidence at trial outlined in a Georgia Supreme Court ruling. The younger girl tried to run, but Presnell caught her and drowned her in a creek, the ruling says.

He locked the 10-year-old girl in the trunk of his car and then left her in a wooded area when he got a flat tire, saying he’d return. She ran to a nearby gas station and described Presnell and his car with a flat tire to police.

Officers found him changing his tire at his apartment complex. He denied everything at first but later led police to the 8-year-old girls body and confessed, the ruling says.

Attorneys for Presnell have said in court filings that Presnell was born to a teenage mother who drank and smoked heavily throughout her pregnancy. Presnell suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome that damaged his brain and kept him "from ever developing into a functioning, responsible adult," his lawyers argued.

According to officials, Presnell has requested a last meal of four hamburgers, four French fries, four sodas, two vanillas milkshakes, an eight-piece bucket of chicken, potato salad, and two pints of vanilla ice cream.

If executed, the Georgia man will be the 54th inmate in the state put to death by lethal injection.

There are currently 37 men and one woman under death sentence in Georgia.

Lawyers try to delay Presnell's execution 

Lawyers representing the Federal Defender Program, which represents Presnell, filed an emergency motion Monday in Fulton County Superior Court, arguing that the setting of his execution date violates a written agreement reached last April with the office of state Attorney General Chris Carr that temporarily put executions on hold during the coronavirus pandemic and established conditions under which they could resume.

The lawsuit says the agreement said that, with one named exception, executions wouldn’t resume until six months after three conditions had been met: the expiration of the state’s COVID-19 judicial emergency, the resumption of normal visitation at state prisons and the availability of a COVID vaccine "to all members of the public."

The judicial emergency ended in June, but prisons are still using a modified visitation policy and children under 5 still can’t access the vaccine, according to the lawsuit which names Carr and the state of Georgia as defendants.

A spokeswoman for Carr declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.