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The Savage Truth: Last Day on Death Row

Marion Wilson Jr. began June 20 the same way he’d begun most days for the last 22 years.
Credit: 13WMAZ
Randall Savage column

Marion Wilson Jr. began June 20 the same way he’d begun most days for the last 22 years: he awoke in his death row cell at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.

It would be his last day on Death Row and his final day on Earth. In addition to Robert Butts, Wilson was convicted in 1997 for his role in the murder of Donovan Corey Parks in Milledgeville.

Prosecutors said that Butts and Wilson bummed a ride with Parks. While Wilson sat in the back seat, Butts pulled a shotgun on Parks, ordered him out of the vehicle and made him lie face down on the pavement. Butts shot Parks in the back of his head, blowing his brains out and scattering skull fragments on the highway.

Butts was executed on May 4, 2018.

On this morning, however, it was Wilson’s turn to endure the last-day rituals that the Georgia Department of Corrections has in place for its Death Row inmates. Visitation begins at 9 a.m. and lasts until 3 p.m.

Fourteen people stopped by to see Wilson during his six-hour session. According to correction department records, Wilson’s visitors consisted of four family members, five friends, four members of the clergy and an attorney.

Immediately after visitation, Wilson - like other Death Row inmates before him – had to undergo a routine physical. 

That’s right. A condemned man scheduled for execution in a few hours was given a routine physical. A reason for the routine physical isn’t listed in the last-day rituals. 

Is it possible a routine physical is administered to determine if the death row inmate is physically fit to be killed?

After the physical, Wilson was served his final meal at 4 p.m. Wilson’s last meal consisted of a medium, thin-crust pizza with all the trimmings, 20 buffalo wings with spicy sauce, a pint of butter pecan ice cream, apple pie and grape juice.

At 5 p.m., Wilson recorded his last statement. At 6 p.m., he accepted the offer of the sedative Ativan.

Almost four hours later in the death chamber, Warden Benjamin Ford offered Wilson the opportunity to make another final statement. His Death Row statement was, “I want to say to my family that loved and cared for me through the years, love y’all.”

He also said, “I’ve never taken a life in my life.”

Once the deadly Pentobarbital began flowing into his veins, Wilson blinked his eyes, turned his head to the right and smiled. He also uttered what could be a take on the late Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which King concluded with “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I’m free at last.”

“About to be free, about to be free, ain’t gonna worry about this chain gang no more,” Wilson said.  He smiled, blinked his eyes again, then opened one of them. Within minutes, he stopped moving. His eyes closed and his mouth was opened slightly. The warden pronounced him dead at 9:52 p.m.

That’s 21 hours and 52 minutes after he began his last day on death row and his final day on Earth.