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US death row inmate granted clemency day before execution; sentence commuted to life

ATLANTA - The state of Georgia on Wednesday spared the life of an inmate, commuting the condemned man's sentence the day before he was to be put to death.

Tommy Lee Waldrip, 68, was scheduled to be executed Thursday night for the April 1991 slaying of a store clerk who was set to testify in court against Waldrip's son. After a hearing Wednesday, the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles ordered that Waldrip's sentence be commuted to life without parole.

The board did not give any explanation for its decision in the order, saying only that it had reviewed and considered all the facts and circumstances of the case, as well as arguments for and against clemency.

Lawyers for Waldrip did not immediately return after-hours calls seeking comment Wednesday. Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, said his office had no comment.

Waldrip is only the fifth death row inmate to have a sentence commuted by Georgia's Parole Board since 2002. The last time it happened was in the case of Daniel Greene, who was spared execution on April 20, 2012.

Waldrip had been on death row for two decades. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1994 for the April 1991 slaying of 23-year-old Keith Evans. His son and brother-in-law were also convicted in the killing and are serving life sentences.

Evans was a store clerk and had testified in the 1990 armed robbery trial of Waldrip's son, John Mark Waldrip. The younger Waldrip was convicted, but he was granted a new trial and released on bond, according to Georgia Supreme Court records from Tommy Lee Waldrip's case. Evans was set to testify in the retrial.

On April 13, 1991, several days before the new trial, John Mark Waldrip called another witness and threatened to harm him if he testified.

Later that evening, Tommy Lee Waldrip, his son and his brother-in-law Howard Livingston ran Evans' truck off the road at a highway crossing and fired a shotgun through the windshield, hitting him in the face and neck, authorities said. Evans was still alive and the men drove him in his truck to another location, where they beat him to death, authorities said. Evans' body was buried in a shallow grave and his truck was set on fire.

Authorities found an insurance card for Tommy Lee Waldrip's wife's car near the burned truck. Waldrip denied any involvement in Evans' disappearance in an interview the next day. But he was arrested days after that and later confessed to shooting and beating Evans and burning his truck. Authorities said he led them to Evans' body and the shotgun.

The next day, he said his son and brother-in-law had killed Evans and burned the truck and that he was just a bystander. In a third statement, he said all three of them were involved, authorities said.

___

Associated Press writer Russ Bynum in Savannah contributed to this report.

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