ATLANTA (AP) -- The Georgia pardons board made the rare decision on Friday to spare the life of a condemned man who was set to die this week for the 1991 murder of his ex-classmate.
The move by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to reduce Daniel Greene's death sentence to life in prison without parole came days after the board stayed his execution. Greene was initially set to die on Thursday for the murder of 20-year-old Bernard Walker, who was fatally stabbed as he tried to help a store clerk attacked by Greene.
It was only the fourth time the board has commuted a death sentence since 2002, and it came after an outpouring of support for the Taylor County man by prison workers, community members and a remorseful plea for mercy from the condemned man himself.
"I think Daniel's remorse is very apparent. He's led an exemplary life before and since these incidents," said his defense attorney, Jeff Ertel. "It was an aberrant act surrounded by 20 years on each side of an outstanding life."
Taylor, 42, has been on death row for almost 20 years. His crime spree began on Sept. 27, 1991, with several visits to a Taylor County convenience store, according to court records. On the last visit, he robbed clerk Virginia Wise and then stabbed her through the lung, but she survived.
Moments later, Walker entered the store and tried to stop the attack. Greene stabbed his former classmate through the heart before speeding away, leaving Walker to die in the store's parking lot. Greene then went on to attack an elderly couple in nearby Macon County and another store clerk in Warner Robins before he was arrested.
A standout defensive lineman in high school, Greene had to be tried in Clayton County because of all the media coverage in his hometown. He was convicted in December 1992 of murder, robbery and assault and was sentenced to death.
At a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, nine of Greene's supporters spoke on his behalf, and many more sent in impassioned letters urging the board to spare his life. They described him as a gentle giant and hardworking student who stayed out of trouble until the "drug-crazed transgression."
Former Taylor County Sheriff Nick Giles called him a "beloved son" of the community, and a former corrections officer who knew Greene in prison said he was "as fine a man as I have ever met in my life."
Greene also sent in a letter to the board expressing his remorse for the pain and suffering he caused Walker's family.
"I was on drugs at the time, but I took the drugs with my hands, and I take the responsibility. That choice to do drugs and what I did after were the worst mistakes of my life," he said in the letter. "I do not blame the drugs. I blame myself for everything."
District Attorney Julia Slater didn't immediately return calls seeking comment. Walker's sister, Amanda Walker Prude, declined to comment.
Taylor County Sheriff Jeff Watson, who went to school with Greene and Walker, said the community was split over the pending execution. He and a local pastor visited Greene in the days leading up to the execution, and said they found Greene to be remorseful.
"I know a bunch of people went to bat for him, and others think he should be executed. I've heard both ways," he said. "And I know there were a lot of people who are pulling for him."
Ertel, the defense attorney, said his client is sorry for the pain he caused the Walker family and other victims but that he's relieved by the board's decision. It was the first time the five-member panel has granted clemency since 2008, when Samuel David Crowe's death sentence was commuted.
"It was very courageous," said Ertel. "It's not easy granting clemency."