- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia’s highest court has tossed the death sentence given to a man convicted in a hotel maid’s slaying.

A unanimous Georgia Supreme Court decision Monday upheld a lower court’s ruling vacating Gregory Walker’s death sentence. The lower court found Walker’s attorneys provided “ineffective assistance of counsel” in failing to make the jury aware of details about Walker’s life that could have led to him being spared the death penalty.

The state could seek another sentencing trial.

Evidence at trial showed Walker was asleep in a Brunswick motel room in June 2001 along with Shedrick Tate and Denise Green when Janeika Murphy, a hotel maid and acquaintance of Walker, came into the room and stole a cigar box containing marijuana and cocaine.

Walker was furious when he awoke and found the money and drugs were gone and told his girlfriend by phone that he had determined who took them and said he was going “to get them.”

When Murphy’s body was found, she had been shot three times in the head and once in the wrist and also had blunt force wounds consistent with pistol whipping on her head.

Walker was convicted in 2005 of malice murder and other charges and the jury recommended the death penalty. His convictions and death sentence were upheld by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2006.

Walker challenged the constitutionality of his conviction in 2008. After two hearings in 2014, a judge upheld his convictions but threw out the death sentence. The judge found that Walker’s trial attorneys didn’t adequately prepare and present mitigating evidence in the sentencing phase, and the Georgia Supreme Court justices agreed.

The justices found that Walker’s attorneys failed to make the jury aware of “pervasive violence” present in Walker’s life beginning in childhood, which included his father abusing him as a child, whipping him until he had welts and telling him he was worthless.

“Considering the combined effect of the deficiencies discussed above, we conclude that there is a reasonable probability that the absence of those deficiencies would have changed the outcome of the sentencing phase of Walker’s trial,” the justices wrote.

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