Monday, August 15, 2005

Parole board to pardon only woman executed in state in 20th century

The state parole board, in a rare move, will issue a formal pardon later this month to the only woman executed in Georgia in the 20th century, officials said Monday.
Lena Baker, a black woman from Cuthbert, near Albany in South Georgia, was convicted Aug. 14, 1944, of killing a white man with whom she had been having an affair.
Testimony and evidence at the time suggested that Baker and 67-year-old gristmill owner Ernest B. Knight had been drinking and may have struggled on the day of the murder. Knight died of a gunshot wound behind his left ear; Baker claimed self-defense.
Still, Baker, 44, and the mother of three children at the time, was tried, convicted and sentenced in one day by an all-white jury. Baker was put to death in Georgia's electric chair at the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville.
Her picture hangs near the now-retired chair at the prison. Her last words also hang at the small prison museum overlooking the vast farm acreage of the compound: "What I done, I did in self-defense or I would have been killed myself, where I was I could not overcome it ... I am ready to meet my God."
Today, murders resulting from domestic arguments generally do not merit the death penalty. Last year, the parole board commuted the death sentence of James Willie Hall, a man convicted in 1998 of stabbing his estranged wife to death. Hall is now serving a life sentence without parole.
Scheree Lipscomb, a parole board spokeswoman, said Baker's family — which has sought a posthumous pardon — will be present at a ceremony at the parole board's meeting on Aug. 30.
"The pardon basically says that it was a grievous error because she was not granted clemency," Lipscomb said Monday. "The case was crying out for mercy."

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