Dawson County’s request for the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to declassify information regarding its decision to grant clemency to a man convicted of a 1991 slaying has been denied.
The board’s director of legal services, La’Quandra Smith, wrote in an Aug. 18 letter that “after thorough and careful consideration of the request, the board has decided not to declassify those materials.”
There were no additional comments or explanation.
The Dawson County Board of Commissioners voted last month to demand answers after the state board’s ruling eliminated the death sentence for Tommy Lee Waldrip, who was set to be executed on July 10 for his part in the murder of Keith Lloyd Evans, who worked at a Forsyth County food store.
In a rare decision, the five-member board commuted the sentence within two hours of hearing testimony from the Evans family and prosecutors wishing to see the death penalty sentence carried out, as well as Waldrip’s relatives and lawyers requesting that his life be spared.
The decision means Waldrip will spend the rest of his days behind bars.
The county commission called for full disclosure of the classified documentation.
According to Commission Chairman Mike Berg, the county spent an estimated $750,000 to prosecute the case against Waldrip and his two co-defendants.
In separate trials, Howard Livingston and John Mark Waldrip, son of the elder Waldrip, were sentenced to life in prison for their parts in the slaying.
County Attorney Joey Homans said local leaders are considering an appeal to Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens to have the material made public.
The Georgia Sheriffs’ Association has also asked that the private documents be made available to the public.
In a letter dated July 29, President Wiley Griffin wrote “the premeditated murder of Keith Evans ... has devastated his family, the Dawson County community and many others throughout the state for over 23 years. Families across the state deserve no less than our full attention to their need for relevant information affecting their lives.”
Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle was working as a patrol deputy, about three years into what has become a more than 26-year law enforcement career, when Evans’ murder rocked the then tight-knit community of about 10,000.
He was devastated when he learned clemency had been granted for Tommy Lee Waldrip.
“It doesn’t give much credit to our justice system. A jury found him guilty, a judge sentenced him to death, the Supreme Court ruled against him and they took it upon themselves to change his sentence. It makes no sense to me. It’s very disappointing,” he said.
Evans was set to testify against John Mark Waldrip and his brother-in-law, Livingston, in the trial in connection with a 1989 armed robbery of the grocery store where he worked.
The trial was scheduled to start two days after Evans was reported missing.
In October 1994, a jury found Tommy Lee Waldrip guilty of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, kidnapping with bodily injury and aggravated battery.
Waldrip also was convicted of five counts of aggravated assault, theft by taking of a motor vehicle, arson in the second degree, intimidating a witness and concealing a death. In addition, he was found guilty of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and two counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
He was sentenced to death.
Evans’ sister questions if all the measures taken to find justice for her brotherhave “been in vain.”
“The board seemed to be concerned that Tommy was only one of the three murderers to receive the death penalty,” said Evans’ sister, Angela DeCoursey. “If this is perhaps the reason they denied the execution, and since the board has ultimate authority, why would they not have issued John Waldrip and Howard Livingston a death sentence?
“After all, the three were equally guilty in the premeditated murder of my brother.”