Information on the Execution of Fred Marion Gilreath, Jr.
Gilreath’s Crimes Gilreath was sentenced to death for the murders of his wife, Linda Gilreath, and his father-in-law, Gerrit Van Leeuwen, on or about May 11, 1979. Linda Gilreath’s stepfather went to Cobb County police on the afternoon of May 11, 1979, with his concern for the safety of his stepdaughter as she was supposed to have picked him up from work that afternoon but did not show up. Linda Gilreath was in the process of obtaining a divorce from Fred Gilreath and had been staying with her mother. Gilreath had threatened Linda’s life, as well as the life of both her mother and stepfather, and he had threatened to burn down their trailer. Earlier that day, Linda Gilreath had gone with her father to the Gilreath home for some personal items. Linda Gilreath was driving a blue Plymouth Duster that day, while Fred Gilreath ordinarily drove a red truck. Two officers went to the Gilreath residence at approximately 5 p.m. No blue Duster was in sight. Police knocked on the front door and a side door to a screened-in porch but received no answer. Officers saw that a porch door and the sliding glass door inside the screened-in porch were ajar, through which they could hear music and smell gasoline. From that point one officer saw a man’s body inside the house; when the officer stepped inside the porch, he saw the body of Linda Gilreath. Gasoline had been poured on and around the two bodies, and puddles of gasoline were on the floor near the living room and in the kitchen. A shotgun and a shell were lying on the floor. No signs of forcible entry were found. A green military-type gas can was sitting by the door to the screened-in porch. Linda Gilreath’s body was found in the living room lying between a coffee table and a love seat, her face covered by a pink towel. A suitcase was near the end table. Linda Gilreath had been shot five times on her right side with a .30-.30 rifle and shot once in the face with a .12 gauge shotgun. Matter was splattered across the love seat, the carpet and walls. Her father, Gerritt Van Leeuwen, was on the floor nearby and had been shot with three different guns. He had been shot in his right thigh with a .30-.30 rifle, shot in the chest with a shotgun, and shot in the head twice with a .22 caliber weapon. Police found a .22 rifle and a .12 gauge shotgun at the scene. Police also collected shell casings from a shotgun and from .22 and .30-.30 caliber weapons. Police placed a lookout for Gilreath and the blue Duster. A dispatcher in Hendersonville, North Carolina, contacted Gilreath’s brother who lived nearby and asked the brother to let police know if Gilreath showed up. At approximately 7:30 p.m. that evening, Fred Gilreath came to his brother’s office driving a blue Duster. When police arrived at the office around 8 p.m. in response to the brother’s call, they found Fred Gilreath, who had showered with his clothes on, still wearing his wet cutoffs. Police arrested Gilreath and told him they wanted to question him about a double homicide. In response he asked to call his wife. A Cobb County detective arrived in North Carolina the next day and found part of a box of .22 caliber bullets in the Duster. He went to a cabin that belonged to Fred Gilreath and found some empty shotgun shell cases, .30/.30 caliber cases and .22 caliber cases lying in the drive. The shotgun and the .22 rifle found at the crime scene were identified as the murder weapons. The firearms examiner also determined that the same .30-.30 gun used to shoot the victims had fired the empty shells found at the North Carolina cabin. Between 1:30 p.m. and 2:40 p.m. on the afternoon of May 11, the Gilreaths’ next-door neighbor heard muffled gunshots from the direction of the Gilreath home. Three workmen from the Cobb County Water Department were working in the area across from the Gilreath residence that same afternoon between 1:30 p.m. and 1:50 p.m. One workman heard five shots in rapid succession from the Gilreath home but did not see anyone because he was doing paperwork. Another workman had seen a Volkswagen and a truck at the Gilreath residence when the work crew arrived and later noticed a blue car had arrived and parked in the driveway. He then saw an old man walk around the house, heard five shots and did not see the man again. A third employee saw a blue Duster arrive with two people in it, one of whom was an elderly man. After the elderly man went behind the house, the employee heard five shots. When the work crew left, the blue car was still there, as well as the red truck. Gilreath testified at trial he had spoken with his father-in-law after he and Linda Gilreath came to the house that day and told the father-in-law he was not ready to speak with his wife until he returned from North Carolina, left in the blue Duster around 1:25 p.m., and bought beer and a fifth of liquor which he drank while he drove to North Carolina. He admitted taking a shower at his brother’s office to sober up. He admitted the .22 caliber rifle, the shotgun and the gas can were his. Gilreath denied killing his wife and father-in-law.
The Trial At a jury trial which began on February 25, 1980, in the Superior Court of Cobb County, Gilreath was convicted of the malice murders of his wife and father-in-law and sentenced to death for both murders on March 3, 1980. The jury found three O.C.G.A. § 17-10-30 statutory aggravating circumstances to support the two death sentences: each murder was outrageously vile and wantonly vile, horrible and inhuman in that it involved torture, depravity of mind and aggravated battery, § 17-10-30(b)(7); and the murder of Gerrit Van Leeuwen was committed while the offender was engaged in the murder of Linda Gilreath, § 17-10-30(b)(2). The convictions and sentences were affirmed on direct appeal. Gilreath v. State, 247 Ga. 814, 279 S.E.2d 650 (1981), cert. denied, 456 U.S. 984, reh’g denied, 458 U.S. 1116 (1982).
The First State Habeas Corpus Case In 1983 Gilreath filed his first state habeas corpus petition in the Superior Court of Butts County, alleging constitutional errors occurred at his trial which should cause his convictions and sentences to be set aside. Pursuant to an evidentiary hearing, the state habeas corpus court denied relief on April 23, 1986, in an unpublished order. The Georgia Supreme Court denied Gilreath’s application for certificate of probable cause to appeal that order. The United States Supreme Court declined to review the state habeas corpus court’s decision. Gilreath v. Kemp, 479 U.S. 890, reh’g denied, 479 U.S. 999 (1986).
The First Federal Habeas Corpus Case On January 8, 1987, Gilreath filed his first federal habeas corpus petition in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division. That petition was ultimately dismissed without prejudice so that Gilreath could return to the state courts to litigate new claims.
The Second Sate Habeas Corpus Case In August 1987 Gilreath filed a second state habeas corpus petition. That petition was denied on August 23, 1990. On March 1, 1991, the Georgia Supreme Court denied Gilreath’s application for a certificate of probable cause to appeal that ruling. The United States Supreme Court again denied review. Gilreath v. Zant, 502 U.S. 885, reh’g denied, 502 U.S. 1001 (1991).
The Second Fedeal Habeas Corpus Case On September 23, 1992, Gilreath filed his second federal habeas corpus petition in the Northern District of Georgia. After additional factual development of claims, the district court denied relief on March 29, 1996. On March 7, 1997, the district court denied Gilreath’s motion to alter or amend the judgment and denied his request for reconsideration. On September 3, 1997, the district court granted Gilreath permission to appeal certain issues. Oral argument was had in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on April 29, 1998, and on December 15, 1999. On December 1, 2000, the three judge panel issued its opinion, affirming the district court’s denial of relief on all grounds. Gilreath v. Head, 234 F.3d 547 (11th Cir. 2000). Rehearing was denied on April 17, 2001. On October 1, 2001, the United States Supreme Court denied Gilreath’s petition for a writ of certiorari to review the Eleventh Circuit’s decision. The mandate of the Eleventh Circuit was issued on October 10, 2001, formally signaling the end of litigation in the second federal habeas case.