Georgia executes man for beating death over car keys

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - The U.S. state of Georgia on Thursday executed a man convicted of beating another man to death with a wooden closet rod in 1994, a prison spokeswoman said.

Joshua Bishop, 41, who had also admitted to being involved in a second murder, died by injection at 9:27 p.m. at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, said Lisa Rodriguez-Presley, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Corrections.

His execution was the third in Georgia this year and the 10th in the United States, the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center said.

Bishop told police he had wanted to take the car of a man who was sleeping inside a friend's mobile home after they had been out for a night of partying. He reached into the pocket of Leverett Morrison, 35, to take his car keys, but Morrison awoke and Bishop beat him with a rod, a court document said.

"I hit him too hard, I reckon, and he didn't say anything," Bishop told police in Milledgeville, Georgia, court records show. "He just wouldn't breathe."

Bishop dumped the victim's body and burned his car with the help of the man living in the mobile home, Mark Braxley, who avoided a death sentence by pleading guilty.

Bishop was executed after losing last-minute appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts.

Bishop was never offered a plea deal, his attorneys said in a clemency petition filed on Monday with Georgia's State Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Bishop has been "haunted by his crimes," his attorneys wrote, asking for his sentence to be commuted to life without parole. The parole board denied his petition on Thursday.

Bishop was heavily intoxicated when he killed Morrison, the petition stated, and had suffered an abusive childhood, during which he was frequently homeless and often hungry.

Bishop also confessed to involvement in the killing of Ricky Lee Wills two weeks before Morrison's death but was never tried on that charge, according to court records. The evidence of the first killing was not introduced until the penalty phase of his trial for Morrison's murder.

Bishop accepted a final prayer and recorded a final statement, Rodriguez-Presley said in a news release, but did not provide his words.

Bishop requested a last meal on Thursday of a barbecue sandwich, Brunswick stew, potato chips, coleslaw, lemonade and purple candy, the Georgia Department of Corrections said.

On Wednesday a U.S. appeals court halted the execution of a Texas man who killed his two young daughters in 2001.

(Editing by Bill Trott and Clarence Fernandez)