Attorney Daniel Kolber uses a megaphone to voice his opposition to the death penalty while standing just outside the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison grounds in Jackson on Tuesday evening, Feb. 2, 2016, where Brandon Astor Jones was set to be put to death. Ben Gray / bgray@ajc.com

Georgia executes its oldest death row inmate

At 12:46 a.m. Wednesday, Jones, just 10 days shy of his 73rd birthday, took his last breath, ending a decades-long journey for the daughter and widow of the man he murdered in 1979.

Jones had waited in a holding cell a few steps from the state’s execution chamber as the scheduled time of his lethal injection, 7 p.m. Tuesday, came and went.

Three friends and 11 family members visited Jones, as did his lawyer and an investigator.

Jones also ate his final meal -- the same dinner served every other inmate at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison near Jackson: chicken, rutabagas, turnip greens, dry white beans, cornbread, fruit punch and, for dessert, bread pudding.

There were a flurry of court filings in the final hours -- including last-minute appeals before the U.S. Supreme Court -- as his attorneys rushed to stop his execution for the 1979 murder of Roger Tackett, who managed a Tenneco convenience store and gas station in Cobb County.

About 11 p.m. Tuesday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas denied the requests for a stay, allowing Jones’ execution to go forward.

Earlier on Tuesday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta turned down Jones’ request for a stay so his lawyers could argue before all 11 federal appeals court judges, sitting as a group, the constitutionality of the Georgia law that keeps secret the identity of the pharmacist who makes the pentobarbital for executions.

Although a majority of those judges rejected his request for a stay, five of the judges in four dissents sharply criticized the secrecy law.

“Today Brandon Jones will be executed, possibly in violation of the Constitution,” 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Robin Rosenbaum wrote in one of the dissenting opinions. “He may also be cruelly and unusually punished in the process. But if he is, we will not know until it’s too late -- if ever.”

Challenges to that law have failed repeatedly in Georgia and in other states with similar statutes. These laws were adopted as it became increasingly hard to secure lethal injection drugs from makers who were under public pressure from death penalty opponents. Opponents, however, say the laws make it impossible to ensure that the drugs made are pure and will not cause an unnecessarily painful death.

Jones also lost on Monday before the State Board of Pardons and Paroles despite his argument that the death sentence for this particular crime was disproportionate.

Jones and Van Roosevelt Solomon were both sentenced to die for murdering Tackett, who had stayed at the Tenneco convenience store after closing to finish paperwork so he would be free to attend Father’s Day Mass with his daughter and wife.

Jones worked for Solomon at his painting business. The two had set out to burglarize the Tenneco.

In the end, Tackett, 35, was shot and died in a pool of his own blood on the Tenneco storeroom floor.

Jones and Solomon were immediately arrested because a Cobb County police officer was outside, having driven a stranded motorist to the Tenneco to use a pay phone. The officer heard the shots.

Solomon was electrocuted on Feb. 20, 1985, while Jones’ case lingered. In 1989, a federal judge ordered that Jones get a new trial because the jurors who convicted and condemned him had a Bible in the room during deliberations. Jones was tried again in 1997 and was again sentenced to death.

There is already one other man scheduled to die after Jones and there could be as many as two others who will have execution dates set in the next few weeks.

On Monday, an execution warrant was signed for former Navy sailor Travis Hittson for the 1993 murder of fellow shipmate Conway Utterbeck while they were visiting Houston County in Middle Georgia.

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The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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