By Bill Rankin and Ernie Suggs
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — On a day that Gregory Favors — a lifelong criminal — should have been in jail without bond on a 2010 charge of trying to break into a car, prosecutors say he killed Georgia State Trooper First Class Chadwick LeCroy.
On Friday, after nearly four years of legal wrangling and an attempt by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard to impose the death penalty, Favors was finally sentenced to life without parole.
The plea agreement was approved Friday in a packed Fulton County Courthouse filled with state troopers.
The sentence and the plea agreement came together quickly, said Jerry Word, head of the state Capital Defender's Office.
Keisha LeCroy, the widow of the slain trooper called the decision "bittersweet."
"While we're happy to know Mr. Favors will be behind bars until his dying day, we are also sad that this day had to happen because a man decided to kill Chad," Keisha LeCroy said.
Favors, who was 30 at the time of the shooting, had an 11-year criminal record that included 18 prior arrests before he was charged with LeCroy's murder. But through a series of missteps and missed opportunities, he was roaming the streets on the day of the trooper's death.
According to records, he should have been in jail without bond for his most recent arrest — on charges of trying to break into a car — or sitting in prison for violating his probation. According to court records obtained at the time by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Favors was out of jail on $19,000 bond following a Dec. 10, 2010 arrest.
On the same day he killed LeCroy, he missed a court hearing related to the arrest.
Police say that on Dec. 27, 2010, during a routine traffic stop for a broken taillight, Favors sped away from LeCroy and crashed his car near the intersection of Hightower Road and St. Paul Avenue in Atlanta. When LeCroy, who was 38 years old at the time, approached, Favors pulled out a gun and opened fire, fatally striking the trooper in the neck.
The shooting was captured on the trooper's dashboard camera.
After shooting LeCroy, Favors stole the trooper's car, abandoning it several miles away.
LeCroy died on the way to Grady Memorial Hospital.
Favors faced nine counts, including murder, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and fleeing and attempting to elude police.
Favors' lawyers had previously served notice that they were going to raise claims that Favors was intellectually disabled and thus not eligible to receive a death sentence.
In 1988, Georgia became the first state to prohibit the execution of the mentally retarded — the legal term used for the disability — and the U.S. Supreme Court banned the practice nationwide in 2002.
"I think everyone involved recognized that even if our client received a death sentence, there was a question as to whether it would be carried out," said Brad Gardner, one of Favors' capital defenders. "There was a high likelihood it could have been reversed on appeal. So this was a way to bring some finality for all involved."
Calls to the Fulton County District Attorney's Office were not returned over the weekend.
In agreeing to the plea agreement, Keisha LeCroy challenged critics who she said claims her family gave up on the death penalty. She said in a way, Favors' plea closes the book on him. If Favors were given the death penalty, she and her family would have to relive her husband's death in court "over and over again" during the appeals process.
"I would fight my entire life to make sure justice was served for Chad. He was my husband and father to our amazing sons," she said. "If we did pursue the death penalty, it could be decades before Gregory Favors would be killed at the hands of the state. Now that a plea deal has been accepted, he is in jail, and he can no longer defend his actions. So yes, Mr. Favors will live, but he lives as a guilty man, and he lives with the knowledge of knowing he will die in prison. Essentially, his life is over."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution