Georgia Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker offers the following information on the execution of Jose Martinez High.
Execution On October 17, 2001, the Superior Court of Taliaferro County filed an order setting the seven-day window in which the execution of Jose Martinez High could occur to begin at noon, November 6, 2001 and end seven days later at noon on November 13, 2001. The Commissioner of the Department of Corrections set the specific date and time for the execution as 7:00 p.m., November 6, 2001, pursuant to the discretion given the Commissioner under state law. High had previously concluded his direct appeal as well as two state and two federal habeas corpus proceedings. The scheduled execution of High was carried out at approximately 8:07pm on Tuesday, November 6, 2001.
On July 26, 1976, Jose High, Nathan Brown and Judson Ruffin, robbed a service station off I-20 near Crawfordville, Georgia. After taking money from the cash register, they forced the operator of the station, Henry Lee Phillips, to get in the trunk of their car and put his 11-year-old stepson, Bonnie Bulloch, in the back seat. The 3 men drove Phillips and Bulloch to a remote area. As they rode to the area, the 11-year-old was taunted with threats that he was going to die and the child begged for his life. Upon reaching a deserted wooded area, Phillips was released from the trunk and he and Bulloch were ordered to lie on the ground. Phillips heard shots and was rendered unconscious. Upon regaining consciousness, Phillips found his stepson dead from a bullet wound to the head. Phillips suffered a gunshot wound to the head and wrist, but miraculously survived and got to a house for help. Phillips was later able to identify High, Ruffin and Brown. High was arrested in Richmond County on other charges and later confessed to the murder.
High was indicted by the grand jury of Taliaferro County, Georgia, on charges of murder, two counts of kidnapping with bodily injury, armed robbery, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and aggravated assault. High was also charged with other offenses in Richmond County, Georgia. Prior to trial in Taliaferro County, High filed a motion to suppress in Richmond County challenging his arrest and subsequent statements. The Court of Appeals of Georgia reversed the granting of the motion to suppress by the trial court, declined to rule on the admissibility of any confession and found the arrest to be legal. State v. High, 145 Ga. App. 772, 244 S.E.2d 888 (1987). High was not tried for the Richmond County offenses.
High was convicted by a jury in the Superior Court of Taliaferro County, Georgia, for murder, two counts of kidnapping with bodily injury, armed robbery, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and aggravated assault. On December 1, 1978, High was sentenced to death for the murder and armed robbery and both counts of kidnapping with bodily injury.
The Direct Appeal
The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the convictions for armed robbery, murder and the two counts of kidnapping with bodily injury, but vacated the convictions for possession of a firearm and aggravated assault because those crimes merged into the crimes of armed robbery and kidnapping with bodily injury. The Court also affirmed the death penalty for the offense of murder and for the kidnapping with bodily injury of Bonnie Bulloch, but vacated the death sentences for armed robbery and for the kidnapping with bodily injury of Henry Lee Phillips. A petition for a writ of certiorari was denied on January 25, 1982. High v. State, 247 Ga. 289, 276 S.E.2d 5 (1981), cert. denied, 455 U.S. 927 (1982).
First State Habeas Corpus
High filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Superior Court of Butts County, Georgia which was denied on September 10, 1982. The Supreme Court of Georgia subsequently granted an application for a certificate of probable cause to appeal and then affirmed the denial of habeas corpus relief. High v. Zant, 250 Ga. 693, 300 S.E.2d 654 (1983) The Supreme Court of the United States denied a petition for a writ of certiorari was denied on May 29, 1984, and denied rehearing on August 2, 1984. High v. Zant, 467 U.S. 1220, reh'g denied, 468 U.S. 1224 (1984).
First Federal Habeas Corpus
High filed petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, and on November 19, 1985, that court entered an order granting habeas corpus relief as to the sentencing phase based upon the charge on mitigating circumstances and denying relief as to the remainder of the allegations. High v. Kemp, 624 F.Supp. 316 (S.D. Ga. 1985).
On June 4, 1987, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court insofar as it denied habeas corpus relief, but reversed the district court’s decision granting relief as to sentence and found that relief should be denied as to all allegations. The Court also denied a petition for rehearing and suggestion for rehearing en banc. High v. Kemp, 819 F.2d 988, reh'g denied, 828 F.2d 775 (11th Cir. 1987).
High then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court of the United States asserting that imposing the death penalty on him would be cruel and unusual punishment because he was allegedly under 18 at the time of the offense. On June 30, 1988, the Court granted certiorari limited solely to the question of the imposition of the death penalty upon High based upon his age. High v. Zant, 487 U.S. 1233 (1988). The State filed a suggestion of mootness based upon newly obtained information indicating that High was, in fact, not 17 at the time of the offense but was 19. The Court did not decide the issue of High’s age but held the case pending decisions in other cases involving the age of an individual and the imposition of the death penalty. On July 3, 1989, the Court entered an order vacating its prior order and denying certiorari. A subsequent motion for rehearing was denied on August 30, 1989. High v. Zant, 492 U.S. 926, reh'g denied, 492 U.S. 937 (1989).
Motion for Relief from Judgment in Federal Habeas
On or about June 23, 1989, High filed a motion in the United States District Court, Southern District of Georgia, for relief from judgment under Rule 60(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. On September 14, 1989, the district court entered an order denying the motion. On October 23, 1990, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the district court denying the motion for relief from judgment. High v. Zant, 916 F.2d 1507 (11th Cir. 1990). A petition for rehearing was denied on November 20, 1990. The Supreme Court of the United States denied a petition for a writ of certiorari on April 1, 1991, and denied rehearing on May 20, 1991. High v. Zant, 499 U.S. 954, reh'g denied, 500 U.S. 938 (1991).
Second State Habeas
On May 21, 1991, High filed a second state habeas corpus petition in the Superior Court of Butts County, Georgia. A hearing was held on September 9, 1991, limited to the issue of a filmed “interview” of High. On March 8, 1994, the state court dismissed the petition as successive. The Supreme Court of Georgia denied an application for a certificate of probable cause to appeal and denied a motion for reconsideration on May 19, 1995. The Supreme Court of the United States denied High’s petition for a writ of certiorari on January 8, 1996.
Second Federal Habeas
High filed a second federal habeas corpus petition in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia on April 23, 1996. On July 24, 1998, the district court denied the petition. High v. Turpin, 14 F.Supp.2d 1358 (S.D. Ga. 1998). The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of relief on April 20, 2000, and denied rehearing on July 5, 2000. High v. Head, 209 F.3d 1257 (11th Cir. 2000). The Supreme Court of the United States denied High’s petition for a writ of certiorari on March 5, 2001.
State Stay Pending Decision on Electrocution
On March 21, 2001, the Georgia Supreme Court stayed the scheduled March 27, 2001 execution of High “until [the Georgia Supreme Court] addresses whether death by electrocution violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.” On October 5, 2001, the Georgia Supreme Court found electrocution to be unconstitutional under the Georgia Constitution and directed that future executions be carried out by lethal injection. Accordingly, on October 17, 2001, the Superior Court of Taliaferro County filed an order setting the seven-day window in which the execution of Jose Martinez High may occur to begin at noon, November 6, 2001 and end seven days later at noon on November 13, 2001.