DAWSONVILLE — Dawson County commissioners are demanding answers after a state board’s ruling last month to grant clemency to a convicted murderer.
Tommy Lee Waldrip was set to die by lethal injection July 10 for his role in the 1991 slaying of Keith Lloyd Evans of Dawsonville.
But in a rare decision, the five-member Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles board commuted the sentence within two hours of hearing testimony from Evans’ family and prosecutors, who wanted to see the sentence carried out, and Waldrip's relatives and lawyers, who didn’t.
The decision means Waldrip will spend the rest of his days behind bars.
The board, by state statute, is not required to disclose any documentation explaining its decision, which prompted outrage from the Evans family and led county officials to ask the state board to declassify information pertaining to it.
“For 23 years my family has persistently [battled] in an effort to seek justice for my brother, Keith Evans, who no longer has a voice,” Angela DeCoursey told the county commission Thursday.
“Considering the amount of taxpayer dollars spent for Tommy’s monthlong trial, in which jurors heard the evidence and issued a death sentence, and taking into the account the law enforcement time dedicated to Keith’s case, my family is now questioning why a panel of five appointed board members chose to dismiss the execution.
“My family, Dawson County and the taxpayers of the state of Georgia want and deserve an answer from the board of pardons and paroles.”
The commission unanimously approved the resolution, calling for full disclosure of the classified documents.
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, John Mark Waldrip and Howard Livingston were sentenced to life in prison for their parts in the slaying.
The Georgia Sheriffs’ Association also wants the private documents 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 tightknit community of about 10,000 residents.
He was devastated when he learned clemency had been granted for Tommy Lee Waldrip.
"It doesn't give much credit to our justice system,” he said. “A jury found him guilty, a judge sentenced him to death, the Supreme Court ruled against him and [this board] took it upon themselves to change his sentence. It makes no sense to me. It's very disappointing.”
Evans was set to testify against John Mark Waldrip and Livingston in the trial for the 1989 armed robbery. The trial was scheduled to start two days after he 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 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.
The Evans family questions if all the measures taken to find justice for her brother has “been in vain.”
“The board seemed to be concerned that Tommy was only one of the three murders to receive the death penalty,” DeCoursey said. “If this is perhaps the reasons 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.”
Lee Darragh, district attorney, led the prosecution of the case in Gwinnett County, where it had been moved to avoid a tainted jury among Dawson County's residents.
"It is certainly disappointing for my office and for the family of the courageous Keith Evans that the parole board has chosen to commute the death penalty that the brave, right-thinking jury imposed upon Tommy Lee Waldrip 20 years ago," Darragh said last month. “That while Tommy Lee Waldrip will never taste freedom again is a good thing, this decision represents incomplete justice.”