British journalist David Rose intervenes to prevent the imminent execution of Carlton Gary in the USA

December 11, 2009

Image of Guantanamo guard tower with sun rising in background

British journalist David Rose is fighting to prevent next week’s killing of Carlton Gary by the state of Georgia – breaking the careful neutrality of his book about the case.

When should a journalist break his cover of impartiality? Carlton Gary is set to die on December 16th, and the journalist David Rose – who wrote an impartial review of the case against this condemned serial killer – has now intervened to try to save his life, formally asking the court for a stay of execution in order to allow time for DNA tests that may conclusively exonerate him. In 2007, David Rose, who writes for the UK’s Mail on Sunday and America’s Vanity Fair, published Violation: Justice, Race and Serial Murder in the Deep South, (Harper Collins), published in the US as The Big Eddy Club (The New Press). This was a comprehensive book about the case of Carlton Gary, describing how his arrest and prosecution fit into an ingrained history of racial discrimination in Columbus, Georgia. Was Carlton Gary, an African-American, guilty, or had he been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death for murdering and raping seven elderly white women in an eight month period 1977-8? Rose’s work raised troubling questions about the existing evidence in the case:

1) The state’s prosecuting lawyers had deliberately concealed a cast made by a dentist from a bite wound left by the killer in the breast of one of his victims.

Rose’s investigation led to its discovery, and expert analysis revealed the wound could not have been made by Gary’s teeth. Yet the prosecution successfully argued in Gary’s appeals that this testimony made no difference.

2) There was also the question of fingerprints.

The prosecution at Gary’s trial in 1986 claimed Gary’s prints were found at four of the murders. Yet Violation shows that in 1979, when Columbus Detective Richard Smith interviewed Mr Gary in South Carolina, he took a set of his fingerprints and had them compared back in Columbus to those found at the homes of the murder victims. He could not explain why his colleagues found no match. Rose also discovered that shoeprint evidence was inconsistent with Carlton Gary being the killer. His feet were several sizes larger than prints found at the crime scenes.

3) There remained the issue of the killer’s genetic type.

Violation demonstrates that while Gary is a “strong secretor”, the man who raped and killed the victims was a “non-secretor”, meaning that only minute quantities of the antigen that determines blood type was present in his semen. That alone should have excluded him. Of course, DNA testing is the gold standard for this type of evidence. But the Georgia authorities told Rose and even testified under oath that DNA tests were impossible, because the semen samples swabbed from the victims had been destroyed as a “bio-hazard”.

The recent emergence of new DNA evidence:

It is only now, in December 2009, thirty-one years after the last of the murders and just days before the scheduled execution that it has emerged that these materials do still exist in a highly testable form – as labelled microscope slides held by the Columbus Police Department. They include “pristine” semen samples – potentially the definitive evidence of Carlton Gary’s innocence. Gary’s lawyers have asked the Columbus court that issued his execution warrant for a stay, to allow these samples to be tested. On December 9, the court turned them down, again claiming that even if the samples did not match Gary, this would not be enough to exonerate him. Gary is therefore scheduled to die, leaving this evidence unexamined. Breaking journalistic impartiality:

It is rare for a journalist to step out from behind the screen of impartial observation. However, just as no journalist may ethically film a child dying when the alternative would be to save that child’s life, there must come a time when human necessity must override the rule of impartiality. Is such a case is presented here? David Rose has decided that he cannot stand by while an innocent man is executed. With the assistance of Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve, he has prepared a brief calling on the Georgia and United States Supreme Courts to allow Carlton Gary the chance to test the DNA. David Rose said:

“I am stunned that the courts can even contemplate executing a man in these circumstances. If Carlton Gary dies before these tests are accomplished, this will truly be a legal lynching.”

Reprieve’s director Clive Stafford Smith said:

 “Journalism cannot be ethical if it abandons its duty to fight for fairness when populism cries for a blood sacrifice. Whether or not Rose’s unique intervention makes the decisive difference, I hope it inspires others to consider their ultimate duty to the truth.”

The full argument put by David Rose to the courts is available below:

Letters in support of Carlton Gary should be addressed to:

State Board of Pardons and Paroles, 2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE Suite 458, Balcony Level, East Tower Atlanta, Georgia 30334-4909

Telephone: (404) 657-9350


For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office 020 7427 1099/ 07931592674.

PO Box 52742
London EC4P 4WS
Tel: 020 7353 4640
Fax: 020 7353 4641

Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900, Registered Company No. 5777831 (England)
Registered Office: 2-6 Cannon Street, London EC4M 6YH;
Chair: Lord Bingham; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner