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Georgia Man Seeks Last Minute Clemency

  Court Watch  -   POSTED: 2007/06/25 18:55

A man set to die for killing his wife and two stepdaughters in 1987 deserves to live because he has remorse for the crimes, has tried to redeem himself in prison and the prosecutor at his trial acted improperly, a lawyer argued at a clemency hearing Monday.

John Hightower's attorney, Jack Martin, also said in his petition to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles that several jurors who convicted his client now support his bid for a reprieve.

"There is a terrible and profound irony in that Mr. Hightower is a person to whom family means so much, yet he has committed the act of destroying part of his family," Martin wrote in the petition.

"This fact is not lost on Mr. Hightower. His regret is intense."

As for the allegations against the man who prosecuted Hightower, Martin said that the district attorney at the time removed blacks as potential jurors during the trial over the objection of the defense. Hightower is black.

Martin also said that many of the death penalty sentences the prosecutor obtained before resigning in 1994 were reversed because of error.

The prosecutor, Joe Briley, who is now in private practice, did not immediately return a phone call to his office Monday seeking comment. A call to his home went unanswered.

Hightower's attorneys were trying several last-minute appeals -- including the clemency petition and a request to the U.S. Supreme Court for a delay -- to keep him from the death chamber. Absent any relief, he will be given a lethal injection on Tuesday.

Prosecutors were expected to appear before the parole board later Monday to argue for the execution to proceed.

Hightower, 63, was convicted for the July 12, 1987, slayings of his wife, Dorothy Hightower, and his two stepdaughters, Evelyn Reaves and Sandra Reaves, at a home in Milledgeville, in central Georgia.

If carried out, the execution would be Georgia's first in nearly two years.

Among the evidence investigators said they had against Hightower: a confession and a flesh- and blood-covered murder weapon found in the car he was driving when he was arrested. His clothes also were stained with blood.

According to authorities, Hightower admitted he had been having marital problems. In the admission, he said he had been drinking and snorting cocaine hours before he entered the home where the victims were, placed a gun under a pillow in the room he shared with his wife and waited for everyone to go to sleep.

At about 3 a.m, police say, Hightower retrieved the gun and shot each of the three victims in the head. A 3-year-old girl in the house was found unharmed.

Hightower was arrested about 90 minutes after the shootings while driving his wife's car.

The execution would be Georgia's first since Robert Conklin, a 44-year-old parolee who fatally stabbed a lawyer and dismembered the victim's body, was given a lethal injection on July 12, 2005.

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