By Joe Johnson
The Georgia Supreme Court this week upheld the conviction of a man who slaughtered five Athens residents when he was a juvenile in 1987.
Now 48, Clinton Bankston was 15 when in April 1987 he fatally stabbed retired University of Georgia professors Glenn and Rachel Sutton during a burglary of their Oglethorpe Avenue home, according to public records and news accounts at the time.
Four months later, after Bankston had turned 16, he broke into a home in the Carr’s Hill neighborhood and mutilated three residents with a hatchet.
The victims were Ann Orr Morris, 63, her sister, Sally Nathanson, 59, and Nathanson’s 22-year-old daughter, Helen.
In May 1988, after a pretrial appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, Bankston entered a plea of guilty but mentally ill to five counts of malice murder and was sentenced to five consecutive life sentences.
In April 2019 -- more than 30 years after the murders -- Bankston filed a motion seeking to vacate his guilty plea and sentences. Western Judicial Circuit Chief Judge H. Patrick Haggard denied the motion, and Bankston appealed.
On Monday the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, ruling that it was without merit.
“The Bankston case remains one of Athens’ most notorious and heinous murder cases.” Western Judicial Circuit Chief Assistant District Attorney Brian Patterson said on Thursday. “It represents one of the unique and rare circumstances when a juvenile should be prosecuted and held accountable as an adult.”
Patterson, who is a candidate for District Attorney, noted that if Bankston’s case had been handled in today's juvenile justice system, he would have only been eligible for up to 60 months in a youth detention center.
“Prosecuting a juvenile as an adult is limited under Georgia law as it should be, but as experienced prosecutors know, this option is necessary in extreme cases to ensure public safety," Patterson said.