More than 20 years after Valdosta native E. Keller Wilcox Jr. was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Hellen Griffin Hanks, his attorneys are asking for his parole -- and say there is sufficient evidence for Wilcox's pardon.

Wilcox is represented by former state Attorney General Michael J. Bowers, former DeKalb District Attorney J. Tom Morgan and local attorney John McTier.

In an April 6 introductory letter to the Parole Board, Bowers and Morgan wrote this is the first time they have ever advocated parole for a prisoner, but "we both feel strongly about this deserving case and urge (the board) to carefully consider it."

Bowers wrote that had he been aware as attorney general of evidence that is available today, he would not have appealed Wilcox's conviction being overturned in 1987.

In the letter, the attorneys said they advised Wilcox that if he were guilty, he should confess and show remorse. "We have been advised that remorse is one of the considerations that the Board could factor in determining whether someone should be granted parole. Mr. Wilcox advised us he could not admit to a crime for which he was not responsible, even if it meant foregoing his chance for parole."

WIlcox was administered a polygraph test last month by a retired Federal Bureau of Investigation polygrapher, Cliff Cormany, who said the results "were overwhelming in favor of Mr. Wilcox's truthfulness that Mr. Wilcox did not commit the crime." This test was reviewed by another polygrapher who reached the same conclusion.

The main body of evidence presented to the Parole Board centers on testimony offered by two elderly employees of the Wilcox family -- Ed Wrentz and Lorenzo Marshall. Wilcox's attorneys state the case hinged on the testimony of the two men, which was forced from them by police and which both later recanted -- in Marshall's case, during the trial. "(Wrentz and Marshall) stated they were scared and Mr. Charlie Spray (police investigator) threatened them with jail and the death penalty if they did not accuse Mr. Wilcox of the crime," stated Wilcox's attorneys.

The statement continues that evidence of the "forced" statements was not available to the defense prior to the trial, but were available to Judge Wilbur Owens, who ruled their testimony as "coerced and not believable" in the decision that released Wilcox from prison in 1985.

The information presented to the Board also includes references to Charlie Spray's April 1995 arrest and conviction for stealing government property when he was Valdosta Police chief. The letter said Spray was investigated after allegations were made that he tampered with evidence during a murder investigation involving a police officer suspected of committing a double homicide.

The letter also states that today, no district attorney would present the same evidence to a grand jury, in their opinions.

In reference to Wilcox as no threat, the letter states that he has been a trustee at Reidsville State Prison since 1993 where he serves as a fireman. "He is housed outside of the prison compound and security perimeter at the fire station with virtually no correctional officer supervision. He has received commendations not only for his conduct, but also for the positive service he has rendered as a fireman and EMT assistant.

The letter says that Wilcox has paid his debt to society for a crime he has maintained he did not commit. Statistics provided by the parole board said 552 lifers were granted parole between 1991 and 1999, with their average sentence being 15 years, it states.

The attorneys also point out that Wilcox did not attempt to flee during the five weeks before his return to prison after the federal court overturned his release. They also encourage the board to meet with Wilcox although they state in the letter that it is unusual for that to occur. However, the letter asks the board to consider Wilcox's clean record prior to the conviction if they will not consider the other evidence.

They maintain that Wilcox has never been a threat to citizens. "He was a model citizen before his conviction, he has been a model prisoner and he will be a model parolee."

To contact Tanya B. O'Berry, call 244-3400, ext. 239.

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