The Death Row Prisoner Who Made History By Escaping, But Was Murdered Later That Night
A convicted murderer thought he had outwitted authorities but didn’t stay alive long enough to enjoy his ill-gotten freedom
For convicted criminals, death row is the literal end of the line. Although it can take time for appeals to play out, as long as convictions stick, there is typically no coming back from a death sentence. A murderer named Troy Leon Gregg thought he might be the exception when he and his co-conspirators became the first people to ever successfully escape from death row in Georgia. However, he didn’t even make it 24 hours into his improbable freedom before he was murdered as the result of a fight.
Gregg led a troubled life. In 1973, he murdered and robbed two men who had given him and a companion a ride as they hitch hiked in Georgia. He was ultimately found guilty and sentenced to die. Although the case made its way to the Supreme Court, where in the case Gregg v. Georgia, the state’s sentencing was upheld as legal by a 7–2 verdict.
With nothing left to lose, Gregg plotted to escape from prison. It didn’t matter that no other inmate had ever escaped from death row in the notoriously tough Georgia, it was the only option he believed he had left. On July 28, 1980, he along with fellow prisoners David Jarrell, Johnny L. Johnson and Timothy McCorquodale successfully broke out. To do so, they sawed through their cell bars and then a nearby window on the fourth floor, getting to the ground below by walking across a narrow ledge and descending down a fire escape. They had meticulously altered their prison-issued clothing to make them look as close as possible to what the guards wore, which was convincing enough that after being briefly being stopped by staff on their way out, they satisfied them by explaining they were doing “security checks.”
Once the desperados reached the parking lot of the facility, there was a car waiting for them that had been dropped off by one of their relatives. The group then drove off, completely undetected. It was actually only after Gregg called a local newspaper to crow about their achievement that anyone even noticed that the foursome were gone. He told the reporter that they…