Donnie Lance, Joy Lance, and Butch Wood

Posted in Library of Congress, The Death Penalty by chamblee54 on January 24, 2020

The state of Georgia plans to execute Donnie Cleveland Lance. He was convicted of killing his ex-wife Sabrina “Joy” Lance, and her boyfriend Dwight “Butch” G. Wood, Jr. Mr. Wood was shot with a shotgun, and Mrs. Lance was beaten to death with the handle of that weapon. This is the short version of the story. If you want to know more, read more.

“Shortly before midnight on November 8, 1997, Lance called Joy Lance’s father, asked to speak to her, and learned that she was not at home. Shortly afterward, a passing police officer noticed Lance’s automobile leaving his driveway. Lance arrived at Butch Wood’s home, kicked in the front door, shot Butch Wood on the front and the back of his body with a shotgun, and then beat Joy Lance to death by repeatedly striking her in the face with the butt of the shotgun, which broke into pieces during the attack. Joy Lance’s face was rendered utterly unrecognizable. … The door to Wood’s home had imprints consistent with size 7 1/2 EE Sears “Diehard” work shoes. When questioned by an investigating officer, Lance denied owning Diehard work shoes; however, a search of Lance’s shop revealed an empty shoe box that had markings showing it formerly contained shoes of the same type and size as those that made the imprints on Wood’s door … Officers also retrieved from a grease pit in Lance’s shop an unspent shotgun shell that matched the ammunition used in Wood’s murder.”

“Joe Moore testified he visited Lance at his shop during the morning of November 9, 1997, before the victims’ bodies were discovered. Referring to Joy, Lance told Moore that “the bitch” would not be coming to clean his house that day. Lance stated regarding Butch Wood that “his daddy could buy him out of a bunch of places, but he can’t buy him out of Hell.” Lance also informed Moore that Joy and Butch were dead. Moore disposed of several shotgun shells for Lance, but he later assisted law enforcement officers in retrieving them. The State also presented the testimony of two of appellant’s jail mates who stated appellant had discussed his commission of the murders. … . Lance later told a fellow inmate that he “felt stupid” that he had called Joy Lance’s father before the murders, and Lance bragged to the inmate that “he hit Joy so hard that one of her eyeballs stuck to the wall.”” (“… Lance’s new lawyers say one of those informants later recanted his testimony in a subsequent hearing.”)

“The State also presented evidence that Lance had a long history of abuse against Joy, including kidnapping, beatings with his fist, a belt, and a handgun, strangulation, electrocution or the threat of electrocution, the threat of burning with a flammable liquid and of death by a handgun and with a chainsaw, the firing of a handgun at or near her, and other forms of physical abuse. Several witnesses testified that appellant had repeatedly threatened to kill Joy if she divorced him or was romantically involved with Butch, and that Lance had also beaten and threatened to kill Butch’s wife and several other persons related to Joy. A relative of Joy testified that Lance once inquired how much it would cost to “do away with” Joy and Butch.”

“Lance was indicted in the Superior Court of Jackson County, Georgia for two counts of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, one count of burglary, one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, and two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Lance was convicted as charged in the indictment and sentenced to death on June 23, 1999.”

During the appeals, Lance claimed ineffective counsel during his trial. “Lance hired J. Richardson Brannon to represent him at trial. … Lance and his family initially paid Brannon $50,000 to represent him, but after the exhaustion of that initial sum, the court declared Lance indigent and retained Brannon as court-appointed counsel.”

“The defense theory of the case was innocence. Brannon attempted to establish an alibi defense based on the time of death and Lance’s whereabouts on November 8–9. Lance’s uncle testified that he was with Lance into the late evening of November 8 and then after midnight on November 9 until 5:00 a.m. Other witnesses corroborated this timeline and testified that Lance behaved normally immediately before and after the time when the murder occurred. Two children who were neighbors of Butch Wood also testified that they heard gunshots and a scream sometime after lunch on November 9, more than twelve hours later than when the crime allegedly occurred.”

“The state presented the testimony of Dr. Daniel A. Martell, a neuropsychologist, who testified that Lance had an IQ of 79 and suffered from dementia. … Dr. Martell summarized his opinion by stating, “In my opinion, [Lance’s diagnosis is] not significant to the crime.” … “The court explained that the evidence established only mild mental impairments, and “against this somewhat mitigating evidence, the jury would have weighed Lance’s long history of horrific abuse against Joy Lance,” the horrific nature of the crime, and evidence about Lance’s statements and demeanor after the crime, such as his declaration that Butch Wood was in “Hell” and “his boast to an inmate that ‘he hit Joy so hard that one of her eyeballs stuck to the wall.””

Twenty plus years after the crime, an appeal reached SCOTUS. “Today, in the case of Donnie Cleveland Lance v. Eric Sellers, Warden, … Justice Sotomayor expressed dismay over the Court’s denial of a writ of certiorari to Mr. Lance who was given the death penalty without his lawyer having put up any evidence of mitigation on his behalf.” The Sotomayor dissent makes two key points regarding this issue.

“Lance was represented during both the guilt and penalty phases of his trial by a solo practitioner who became convinced of Lance’s innocence—and his own ability to prove it—early in the representation. He thus prepared exclusively for the guilt-or-innocence phase of the trial. Counsel did not even broach the subject of possible penalty-phase evidence with Lance or his family, because he did not want them “thinking that [he] might be thinking in terms of losing the case.” … So when the jury found Lance guilty and the question became whether Lance should be put to death, Lance’s counsel had no evidence whatsoever to present.”

“The evidence showed that counsel could have found possible cognitive problems had he looked into Lance’s personal history. That history included repeated serious head traumas caused by multiple car crashes, alcoholism, and—most seriously—Lance’s once being shot in the head by unknown assailants while lying on his couch. … In addition to the history discussed by the court, Lance also ingested gasoline as a small child, was trampled by a horse as a teenager, and once was overcome by fumes while working to clean the interior of an oil tanker truck.””

“The Georgia Department of Corrections announced Lance’s final meal on Thursday – he’ll be having two chili steak burgers, french fries, onion rings, mustard, ketchup and a soda.” Pictures today are from The Library of Congress. Donnie Lance died at 9:05 pm, January 29, 2020.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: