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Georgia man's death sentence changed to life in prison

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Attorney says inmate was shocked, relieved, somber
  • NEW: Victim's family too devastated to address parole board
  • Samuel David Crowe's death sentence was changed to life in prison Thursday
  • Crowe admitted killing a store clerk in 1988 in Georgia
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(CNN) -- Two hours before his scheduled execution Thursday, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles commuted the death sentence of Samuel David Crowe, his lawyer said.

Samuel David Crowe's death sentence was changed to life in prison by Georgia authorities, his attorney says.

Crowe was convicted in 1988 of murdering Joseph V. Pala, the retail manager at Wicks Lumber Company in Douglas County. Crowe admitted to the crime.

The board's ruling means Crowe's sentence will be changed to life without the possibility of parole. The board did not give a reason for its decision.

When attorney Ann Fort called Crowe with the news, he was quiet.

"He was really shocked and relieved but very somber about it. He takes very seriously the deep harm that he caused when he committed this crime," she said.

Crowe had a cocaine habit that his attorney says he kicked in prison. He spent his time behind bars counseling other inmates, teaching some of them to read and writing to people outside of prison who had drug habits. "He didn't want them to go down the path he did," Fort said.

As for the Pala family, they are devastated. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Pala's widow, Fran Pala, and his daughter, Lisa Pala-Hansen, were too upset to address the parole board. A representative spoke to the board on their behalf, the newspaper said.

Crowe had been scheduled to be executed by injection at 7 p.m. ET Thursday at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, 45 minutes south of Atlanta.

He would have been the 19th inmate in Georgia executed by injection.

William Earl Lynd was executed by injection the first week in May. He was the first inmate to die in the state since September, when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the three-drug combination represented cruel and unusual punishment.

Lynd was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend in 1988.

The U.S. Supreme Court had effectively halted all executions in the country last September, when it agreed to consider whether the three-drug combination used by most states violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Death penalty opponents have argued that if inmates are not given enough anesthetic, they could be conscious enough to suffer excruciating pain without being able to express it because of the paralyzer.

Their claims are supported by medical studies.

Of the 24 death sentences the Georgia board has considered, Crowe's is the third it has commuted.

Also this week, Mississippi executed murderer Earl Wesley Berry by lethal injection. Berry confessed to abducting Mary Bounds in 1987, beating her to death and then dumping her body in a rural road. The courts rejected Berry's attorneys' arguments that he should be spared because he was mentally retarded.

CNN's Ashley Fantz contributed to this report.

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