Gregory Lawler, Rick Sowa, Pat Cocciolone

Posted in GSU photo archive, The Death Penalty by chamblee54 on October 17, 2016









Gregory Paul Lawler, GDC ID:0000694017, is scheduled to be executed Wednesday, October 19. Mr. Lawler was convicted for the killing of Atlanta Police Officer John Richard “Rick” Sowa. Officer Patricia Cocciolone was severely wounded, but lived. Here is the official story, from the Georgia Attorney General. Links will be provided to additional information.

The evidence adduced at trial showed the following: Lawler and his girlfriend, Donna Rodgers, were drinking at a bar near their Atlanta apartment at approximately 9:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 12, 1997. Ms. Rodgers was very intoxicated. They left the bar and began walking home when they had some type of altercation in the parking lot of a pawn shop. A person at a nearby gas station believed that Lawler was striking an intoxicated Ms. Rodgers with a bag. He drove to a police station and reported what he had seen. Officer Cocciolone and Officer Sowa went to the parking lot and observed Ms. Rodgers sitting on a curb with Lawler trying to pull her to her feet. Lawler left the scene and walked to the apartment when the police arrived. The officers did not pursue Lawler; since Ms. Rodgers was intoxicated and lived only a short distance away, they decided to help her get home. They placed her in a patrol car and drove to her and Lawler’s apartment, which was a two-story townhouse-style apartment with a ground floor door. (The apartment was on Morosgo Way, near the Lindbergh MARTA station. The apartment has been torn down.)

They parked on the street, escorted her up the walk (witnesses testified that she had difficulty standing), and knocked on the door. Lawler opened the door and began yelling “get the f— away from my door” at the officers. After Ms. Rodgers was inside, he tried to shut the door on them. Officer Sowa put a hand up to prevent the door from shutting and said they were just trying to confirm that Ms. Rodgers lived there and that she would be okay. Lawler grabbed an AR-15 rifle he had placed next to the door when he saw the officers arrive and opened fire on the officers as they fled for cover. A neighbor testified that she heard a young man’s voice shout, “Please don’t shoot me”; another neighbor testified that she saw Lawler emerge from the apartment firing a gun; and a third neighbor testified that she saw the officers running with their backs to the apartment during the shooting. Lawler fired fifteen times; the police found three shell casings inside the apartment and the remainder outside the apartment. A fourth neighbor … saw Lawler standing over the crumpled form of Officer Cocciolone holding what appeared to be a rifle; Lawler then ran back into the apartment. Lawler had fired penetrator bullets, which can pierce police body armor.

Officer Cocciolone managed to send a radio distress call and other police officers arrived at the scene. They found the victims in front of Lawler’s apartment, with Officer Sowa lying next to a parked car near the sidewalk and Officer Cocciolone collapsed on the front yard. Both officers still had their pistols snapped into their holsters. Officer Sowa was shot five times in the back, buttocks, and chest, and, according to the medical examiner, died almost immediately. Officer Cocciolone was hit three times in the head, arm, and buttocks. Despite a shattered pelvis, damaged intestines, and permanent brain injury, she survived and testified at Lawler’s trial.

One of the responding officers, Sergeant Adams, peered through Lawler’s front window and saw Ms. Rodgers sitting on the floor. He opened the front door and entered the apartment. While inside, he heard footfalls upstairs and the sound of a rifle action being worked so he retreated from the apartment and took Ms. Rodgers with him. After a six-hour stand-off, a hostage negotiator convinced Lawler to surrender. The murder weapon, the AR-15 rifle, was found in the apartment along with numerous other firearms and several different types of ammunition. Lawler’s co-worker testified that Lawler had expressed his “extreme dislike” of the police and stated that if any tried to enter his home he would be ready for them.

On March 1, 2000, following a jury trial, Lawler was convicted of malice murder, felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault on a peace officer, aggravated battery on a peace officer, and two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. The jury’s recommendation of a death sentence for malice murder was returned on March 3, 2000.

During the trial: “… Gregory Lawler was on trial in Fulton Superior Court, he took the stand and testified that he didn’t trust police. He brought up the Rodney King police beating, from 1991. “It’s just another example, it confirmed what I personally experienced, You know, I’ve seen them do that.” Lawler claimed then that he was the victim, and shot the officers in self-defense — despite the state’s evidence to the contrary.”

During the 2003 appeal, ” Mr. Lawyer made claims: …a constitutional or statutory fair-cross-section violation with regard to the Fulton County grand and traverse jury lists… the State’s use of victim-impact evidence … the trial court’s denials of Lawler’s motions to suppress evidence… motions to excuse for cause 13 prospective jurors…” The verdict of the court: “Judgment affirmed.”

During a later appeal before The United States District Court: “Lawler argues his trial counsel were ineffective because they failed to (1) adequately investigate his mental health, (2) retain a forensic pathologist, and (3) adequately interview and cross-examine Jabus Steed, a witness for the prosecution. Lawler also asserts the prosecution knowingly offered false testimony. ” The verdict of the lower court was affirmed.

Pat Cocciolone has had to struggle to recover. The city of Atlanta has not been helpful, as seen in this story: Former APD officer says city won’t pay for surgery related to on-duty shooting. Officer Cocciolone has not commented on the impending execution.

Pictures are from “The Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library”. UPDATE The state Board of Pardon and Parole considered a plea for clemency Tuesday morning. “The board heard from Lawler’s attorneys, his brother and a neuropsychologist who specializes in autism spectrum disorder. His application for clemency says Lawler has Asperger’s syndrome that went undiagnosed until just 3 weeks ago…. Lawler requested a last meal consisting of ribeye steak, a baked potato with sour cream, asparagus, dinner rolls with butter, French onion soup, strawberries, pistachio ice cream, milk and apple juice.” UPDATE Gregory Lawler died at 11:49 pm October 19, 2016. He is the 44th Georgia death row inmate executed by lethal injection.









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