mississipi

Mississippi Man Back on Death Row, Mental Evaluation Ordered


JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday reinstated the death sentence of an inmate convicted of killing a prison guard.

Justices also ordered a state circuit court judge to hold another hearing on the mental capacity of Willie C. Russell , who came within hours of being executed more than two decades ago.

Russell, now 57, was convicted in the 1989 killing of Argentra Cotton, a guard at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, where Russell was imprisoned for armed robbery, escape and kidnapping convictions in Hinds County.

A federal appeals court blocked the execution in January 1997 after Russell claimed he didn’t have a lawyer to appeal his death sentence. Russell later claimed he was intellectually disabled and could not be executed.

Sunflower County Circuit Judge Betty W. Sanders agreed and overturned the death sentence, and Russell remained in prison. On Thursday, justices said Sanders should have heard more testimony.

A majority of justices wrote that Russell underwent psychological testing in 2006 in an aggravated assault case, but he never underwent an assessment of intellectual disability.

In 2014, Sanders denied the state’s request for Russell to be evaluated for intellectual disability, saying the previous testing was sufficient. Five of the nine justices said Thursday that the judge conducted a “one-sided” hearing about Russell’s mental capacity before she overturned his death sentence.

However, four justices wrote a dissent, saying Russell had undergone enough psychological testing in 2006, and results of those tests could be used to determine whether he has an intellectual disability.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that it is unconstitutional to execute a person who has intellectual disabilities.

Sanders is retired from the bench. A majority of justices said Thursday that an expert chosen by the state must be allowed to evaluate Russell before a circuit judge holds new hearing about his mental capacity.

 

Advertisements

States to try new ways of executing prisoners. Their latest idea? Opioids.


December 11, 2017

The synthetic painkiller fentanyl has been the driving force behind the nation’s opioid epidemic, killing tens of thousands of Americans last year in overdoses. Now two states want to use the drug’s powerful properties for a new purpose: to execute prisoners on death row.

As Nevada and Nebraska push for the country’s first fentanyl-assisted executions, doctors and death penalty opponents are fighting those plans. They have warned that such an untested use of fentanyl could lead to painful, botched executions, comparing the use of it and other new drugs proposed for lethal injection to human experimentation.

States are increasingly pressed for ways to carry out the death penalty because of problems obtaining the drugs they long have used, primarily because pharmaceutical companies are refusing to supply their drugs for executions.

The situation has led states such as Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma to turn to novel drug combinations for executions. Mississippi legalized nitrogen gas this spring as a backup method – something no state or country has tried. Officials have yet to say whether it would be delivered in a gas chamber or through a gas mask.

Other states have passed laws authorizing a return to older methods, such as the firing squad and the electric chair.

“We’re in a new era,” said Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University. “States have now gone through all the drugs closest to the original ones for lethal injection. And the more they experiment, the more they’re forced to use new drugs that we know less about in terms of how they might work in an execution.”

Supporters of capital punishment blame critics for the crisis, which comes amid a sharp decline in the number of executions and decreasing public support for the death penalty. As of late November, 23 inmates had been put to death in 2017 – fewer than in all but one year since 1991. Nineteen states no longer have capital punishment, with a third of those banning it in the past decade.

“If death penalty opponents were really concerned about inmates’ pain, they would help reopen the supply,” said Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which advocates the rights of crime victims. Opponents “caused the problem we’re in now by forcing pharmaceuticals to cut off the supply to these drugs. That’s why states are turning to less-than-optimal choices.”

Prison officials in Nevada and Nebraska have declined to answer questions about why they chose to use fentanyl in their next executions, which could take place in early 2018. Many states shroud their procedures in secrecy to try to minimize legal challenges.

But fentanyl offers several advantages. The obvious one is potency. The synthetic drug is 50 times more powerful than heroin and up to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

“There’s cruel irony that at the same time these state governments are trying to figure out how to stop so many from dying from opioids, that they now want to turn and use them to deliberately kill someone,” said Austin Sarat, a law professor at Amherst College who has studied the death penalty for more than four decades.

Another plus with fentanyl: It is easy to obtain. Although the drug has rocketed into the news because of the opioid crisis, doctors frequently use it to anesthetize patients for major surgery or to treat severe pain in patients with advanced cancer.

Nevada officials say they had no problem buying fentanyl.

“We simply ordered it through our pharmaceutical distributor, just like every other medication we purchase, and it was delivered,” Brooke Keast, a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Corrections, said in an email. “Nothing out of the ordinary at all.”

The state, which last put someone to death in 2006, had planned its first fentanyl-assisted execution for November. The inmate involved, 47-year-old Scott Dozier, was convicted of killing a man in a Las Vegas hotel, cutting him into pieces and stealing his money.

According to documents obtained by The Washington Post, Nevada’s protocol calls for Dozier first to receive diazepam – a sedative better known as Valium – and then fentanyl to cause him to lose consciousness. Large doses of both would cause a person to stop breathing, according to three anesthesiologists interviewed for this report.

Yet Nevada also plans to inject Dozier with a third drug, cisatracurium, to paralyze his muscles – a step medical experts say makes the procedure riskier.

“If the first two drugs don’t work as planned or if they are administered incorrectly, which has already happened in so many cases . . . you would be awake and conscious, desperate to breathe and terrified but unable to move at all,” said Mark Heath, a professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University. “It would be an agonizing way to die, but the people witnessing wouldn’t know anything had gone wrong because you wouldn’t be able to move.”

John DiMuro, who helped create the fentanyl execution protocol when he was the state’s chief medical officer, said he based it on procedures common in open-heart surgery. He included cisatracurium because of worries that the Valium and fentanyl might not fully stop an inmate’s breathing, he said. “The paralytic hastens and ensures death. It would be less humane without it.”

A judge postponed Dozier’s execution last month over concerns about the paralytic, and the case is awaiting review by Nevada’s Supreme Court. In the meantime, Nebraska is looking toward a fentanyl-assisted execution as soon as January. Jose Sandoval, the leader of a bank robbery in which five people were killed, would be the first person put to death in that state since 1997.

Sandoval would be injected with the same three drugs proposed in Nevada, plus potassium chloride to stop his heart.

Even at much lower concentrations, intravenous potassium chloride often causes a burning sensation, according to Heath. “So if you weren’t properly sedated, a highly concentrated dose would feel like someone was taking a blowtorch to your arm and burning you alive,” he said.

Fentanyl is just the latest in a long line of approaches that have been considered for capital punishment in the United States. With each, things have often gone wrong.

When hangings fell out of favor in the 19th century – because of botched cases and the drunken, carnival-like crowds they attracted – states turned to electrocution. The first one in 1890 was a grisly disaster: Spectators noticed the inmate was still breathing after the electricity was turned off, and prison officials had to zap the man all over again.

Gas chambers were similarly sold as a modern scientific solution. But one of the country’s last cyanide gas executions, in 1992, went so badly that it left witnesses crying and the warden threatening to resign rather than attempt another one.

Lethal injection, developed in Oklahoma in 1977, was supposed to solve these problems. It triggered concerns from the start, especially because of the paralytic drug used. Even so, the three-drug injection soon became the country’s dominant method of execution.

In recent years, as access to those drugs has dried up, states have tried others. Before the interest in fentanyl, many states tested a sedative called midazolam – leading to what Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor called “horrifying deaths.”

Dennis McGuire, who raped and killed a pregnant newlywed in Ohio, became the first inmate on whom that state’s new protocol was tried. Soon after the 2014 execution began, his body writhed on the table as he gasped for air and made gurgling, snorting noises that sounded as though he was drowning, according to witnesses.

The same year, Oklahoma used midazolam on an inmate convicted of kidnapping and killing a teenager; authorities aborted the execution after Clayton Lockett kicked, writhed and grimaced for 20 minutes, but he died not long after. Three months later, Arizona used midazolam on Joseph Wood III, who was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and her father. Officials injected him more than a dozen times as he struggled for almost two hours.

Like officials in other states, Arizona officials argued that the inmate did not suffer and that the procedure was not botched. Later, they said they would never again use midazolam in an execution.

Joel Zivot, a professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University, called the states’ approach ludicrous. “There’s no medical or scientific basis for any of it,” he said. “It’s just a series of attempts: obtain certain drugs, try them out on prisoners, and see if and how they die.”

The bad publicity and continuing problems with drug supply have sent some of the 31 states where capital punishment remains legal in search of options beyond lethal injection. Turning to nitrogen gas would solve at least one issue.

Nitrogen is literally in the air we breathe – you can’t cut off anyone’s supply to that,” said Scheidegger, who strongly supports the idea.

In addition to Mississippi, Oklahoma has authorized nitrogen gas as a backup to lethal injection. Corrections officials and legislators in Louisiana and Alabama have said they hope to do the same.

And yet, critics note, there is almost no scientific research to suggest that nitrogen would be more humane.

Zivot is among those skeptical that nitrogen would work as hoped.

“There’s a difference between accidental hypoxia, like with pilots passing out, and someone knowing you’re trying to kill him and fighting against it,” he said. “Have you ever seen someone struggle to breathe? They gasp until the end. It’s terrifying.”

Dozier, the inmate Nevada hopes to execute soon with fentanyl has said he would prefer death by firing squad over any other method. In more than a dozen interviews, experts on both sides of the issue expressed similar views.

Of all the lethal technology humans have invented, the gun has endured as one of the most efficient ways to kill, said Denno, who has studied the death penalty for a quarter-century.

“The reason we keep looking for something else,” she said, “is because it’s not really for the prisoner. It’s for the people who have to watch it happen. We don’t want to feel squeamish or uncomfortable. We don’t want executions to look like what they really are: killing someone.”

Federal Judge Temporarily Halts Mississippi Executions


Judge Henry Wingate gave the order verbally on Tuesday, following up with a written order Wednesday, in a case that challenges the state’s lethal injection methods as cruel and unusual.

A federal judge has temporarily halted Mississippi from carrying out executions.

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate gave the order verbally on Tuesday in response to a suit brought by death row inmates challenging Mississippi’s lethal injection methods as cruel and unusual.

On Wednesday, Wingate followed up with a written order, finding that the inmates are likely to succeed on their claim that “Mississippi’s failure to use a drug which qualifies as an ‘ultra short-acting barbiturate or other similar drug’ as required” by state law violates both that law and the U.S. Constitution’s due process guarantees.

Under the order, Mississippi is barred from using “pentobarbital, specifically in its compounded form, or midazolam, from executing any death row inmate at this time.” Additionally, the state must inform the court of any other execution procedure it wishes to use before executing any inmate.

Mississippi had hoped to execute inmate Richard Jordan on Thursday for a murder as part of a kidnapping in 1976. The state’s execution protocol calls for three drugs — a sedative, followed by a paralytic and then a drug to cause cardiac arrest. The protocol is similar to the one approved by the U.S. Supreme Court this year, but inmates counter that the state is lacking safeguards that other states have — such as an EKG to verify the inmate is actually unconscious.

The inmates also say Mississippi is further constrained by state law that mandates executions be performed with an “ultra short-acting barbiturate or other similar drug.” In the middle of litigation, the state switched its anesthetic to midazolam, the drug the Supreme Court recently approved. However, it is not a barbiturate.

Mississippi, like many other death penalty states, attempts to keep the supplier of its execution drugs a secret.

Attorney General Jim Hood’s office has filed a notice with Wingate’s court that it is appealing the ruling.

No drug, no death: State’s lethal injection protocol stalls execution of South Mississippi murderer


July 24, 2015

HARRISON COUNTY — The execution of Richard Gerald Jordan, Mississippi’s longest-serving death row inmate, is being held up over a lawsuit. Jordan filed suit to stop the state from using a lethal cocktail he says is experimental and could cause him great pain before he dies.

Jordan exhausted all of his appeals before the U.S. Supreme Court at the end of June, paving the way for Attorney General Jim Hood to request an execution date of the high court.

In other such cases from as far back as April 1989, the Attorney General’s Office has filed for an execution date within a day or two of the exhaustion of an inmate’s final appeal.

Attorney General Jim Hood’s office said Jordan’s litigation has held up the request to set an execution date because the Mississippi Department of Corrections “can no longer obtain (the anesthetic) pentobarbital and thus will have to obtain another drug in (its) place.”

“That change has not been made as of yet and we have informed the federal court we will not request an execution date prior to that change,” Hood’s office said.

MDOC did not wish to comment, citing the pending litigation.

The state adopted the latest lethal-injection protocol in 2011 after European manufacturers of the previous execution drug ceased its distribution to prisons in the United States because it did not want them used in executions.

Jordan’s lawsuit, filed by the Solange MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans, requested an injunction to stop the use of the current execution protocol.

In the suit, lawyer Jim Craig said Mississippi is one of the last states in the nation to use a compounded form of pentobarbital before injecting a paralytic drug and potassium chloride to execute a condemned person.

He questioned whether the state could mix a safe and effective form of pentobarbital as an anesthetic.

Even if it did, Craig said, it could act more slowly than the previous drugs used, resulting in a person remaining conscious and aware he is suffocating when the par

alytic drug is administered prior to potassium chloride to stop the heart.

“… The untried and untested drugs …” the suit says, result in a substantial risk for the condemned to face a “torturous death by live suffocation and cardiac arrest.”

Jordan is suing based on his right to not suffer cruel and unusual punishment.

Family wants justice

That means little to the family members of Jordan’s victim, Edwina Marter, who have waited more than 39 years for closure.

“This has been going on for us far too long,” said Marter’s sister Mary Degruy. “When is this going to happen? Nobody is calling us.”

Edwina Marter was 37 years old when Jordan kidnapped and killed her in Harrison County on Jan. 11, 1976.

Degruy still visits her sister’s grave in New Orleans often, leaving flowers and maintaining its surroundings in her memory.

Marter and her husband, Charles, had been together for years and had two sons.

“She was very good-hearted and she loved her kids,” Degruy said. “She did charity and they were well known in Mississippi. She would always come and stay with us for a week or two when the kids weren’t in school. We did everything together when we could.”

Charles Marter over the years has often spoken out about his wife’s killing and the delay in justice, but now in his 70s, he no longer wants to discuss it, his son Eric Marter said.

Eric Marter said he was 11 years old when his mother was murdered.

“She was a stay-at-home mom and she took care of us,” he said. “She was always there for us. But ours wasn’t a normal childhood with a mom and dad because of this.”

As for Jordan, he said, “He should have been executed a long time ago.”

The murder plot

Jordan killed Edwina Marter execution-style shortly after he arrived in South Mississippi on Jan. 11, 1976, and spotted Gulf National Bank at U.S. 90 and U.S. 49 in Gulfport. He called and asked for the name of the senior commercial loan officer and was told it was Charles Marter, who was also vice president of the bank.

Jordan went through a Gulfport city directory, which at that time listed occupations, to find Marter’s home address.

Jordan went to the home, posing as an electrical repairman to check the breaker boxes, and Edwina Marter let him in.

He grabbed her as her 3-year-old son slept in a bedroom and forced her into a car. He drove to De Soto National Forest, where he let her out and killed her.

After the killing, Jordan called Charles Marter demanding a $25,000 ransom in exchange for his wife’s safe return. He told Marter to wrap the ransom up in a brown paper bag and drop it off at a location on U.S. 49. Marter gathered up the money, but also alerted authorities.

Twice Marter tried to deliver the ransom to Jordan, but Jordan saw law enforcement officers as Marter was making his way to the drop-off point. He left both times. He contacted Marter a third time, telling him to leave the money under a jacket on Interstate 10 near the Canal Road exit.

Marter left the money, but neither he nor Jordan knew authorities were watching.

When Jordan picked up the money, authorities chased him, but he eluded them. He drove to a discount pharmacy to buy new clothes, then called a taxi. He was in a taxi when authorities arrested him in a roadblock.

Jordan confessed to killing Edwina Marter and told authorities where to find her body. Her family said she’d been shot and tied to a tree.

“He took my sister away and we’re still dealing with it,” Degruy said. “I think he’s been living long enough. It’s not fair to us. You know, you don’t like people to die, but he deserves it.”

Freed from death row, woman, 58, finds peace in forgiveness


june 29, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A woman freed after 16 years on Mississippi’s death row says God helped her come to peace with herself and the fact that until recently, her execution might come any time.

Michelle Byrom tells a local paper that she has forgiven her son and others she feels treated her wrongly. Her son, Edward Byrom Jr., testified against her but later allegedly confessed.

Byrom was convicted of getting her son to hire a hit man to kill her husband. The Mississippi Supreme Court ordered a new trial in March.

She pleaded “no contest” Friday, asserting innocence but acknowledging prosecutors could probably convince a jury otherwise.

Byrom says that after the brief court hearing in Tishomingo County, she and her brother didn’t stop for lunch until they got to Tennessee.

Mississippi death row inmate drops lawsuit after info provided on execution drug


march 20, 2014

JACKSON, Mississippi — The Mississippi Department of Corrections and attorneys for a death row inmate have agreed to dismiss a lawsuit over release of information on execution drugs and suppliers.

The decision to dismiss was made after the attorney general’s office and the agency provided information sought about the drugs, attorneys for Michelle Byrom said in a statement.

Special Assistant Attorney General Paul Barnes said in court documents filed this week that the Corrections Department erred in not providing the information sought by Byrom and has now done so.

Byrom and her attorneys had asked Hinds County Chancery Judge William Singletary to hold the agency in violation of Mississippi’s public records law for failing to provide information on whether the drugs are safe and reliable or whether they may have been tainted, expired, counterfeited or compromised in some way.

Barnes said the Corrections Department has now provided essentially everything requested except for the drugmaker’s identity. Corrections officials had no immediate comment.

Byrom was sentenced to death in 2000 in Tishomingo County in the shooting death of her husband, Edward “Eddie” Byrom Sr., at their home in Iuka.

Attorney General Jim Hood has asked the state Supreme Court to set a March 27 execution date for Byrom. Byrom’s lawyers have asked the Supreme Court to allow her to continue her appeals. The court has not yet ruled on either motion.

Vanessa Carroll, an attorney with the New Orleans office of the MacArthur Justice Center, said the center has determined the Corrections Department is buying the lethal injection drugs from a compounding pharmacy in the state and that the center has determined the identity of the pharmacy.

The Corrections Department has said it uses pentobarbital, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride in executions.

Carroll said in Thursday’s news release that the Corrections Department’s use of a compounding pharmacy raises concerns.

“We have no assurance that this compounded pentobarbital is sufficiently potent and effective. This is an enormous concern because pentobarbital is the first drug administered during a lethal injection, and if it fails to work properly, the prisoner will be suffocated to death by the paralytic agent that is given next, and may be conscious during the excruciating pain caused by the third drug, which causes death by cardiac arrest,” said Carroll.

Compounding pharmacies make customized drugs not scrutinized by the Federal Drug Administration. It’s hard to tell exactly how many states have used or are planning to use compounding pharmacies for execution drugs because states frequently resist disclosing the source of the drugs.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, six states have either used or announced an intention to use compounding pharmacies to obtain the drugs for lethal injection.

South Dakota carried out 2 executions in 2012 using drugs from compounders. Georgia obtained drugs from an unnamed compounding pharmacy for the planned execution of Warren Hill in 2013, but the execution was stayed. Pennsylvania obtained drugs from a compounder, but has not used them. Colorado sent out inquiries to compounding pharmacies for lethal injection drugs, but all executions are on hold. Missouri used pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy in the 2013 execution of Joseph Franklin.

Texas and Ohio announced plans to obtain drugs from compounding pharmacies in October 2013. Documents released in January show that Louisiana had contacted a compounding pharmacy regarding execution drugs, but it is unclear whether the drugs were obtained there.

Washington D.C.-based DPIC is a nonprofit organization that tracks information on issues concerning capital punishment.

MISSISSIPI – Death penalty case before Miss. court – Jason Lee Keller


October 15, 2012 http://www.sunherald.com

MISS. — The Mississippi Supreme Court is scheduled to hear an appeal Monday from death row inmate Jason Lee Keller, who wants a new trial in the 2007 robbery and shooting death of a woman in Harrison County.

Prosecutors say 41-year-old Hat Nguyen, a single mother of four, was killed at the convenience store she owned in Harrison County.

Court records show the Nguyen family lost their home to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and lived in the back of the store.

Prosecutors say Keller, now 33, allegedly shot Nguyen shot four times. A shot to the back of her head was fatal.

Keller was convicted in Harrison County Circuit Court in 2009.

Court records show Keller told investigation that he was high on cocaine when the incident occurred.

 

MISSISSIPPI – Death row inmate back for 2nd appeal – Howard Dean Goodin


September 30, 2012 http://www.clarionledger.com

Howard Goodin

Death row inmate Howard Dean Goodin is headed back to the Mississippi Supreme Court for a second round of arguments on claims that he is mentally disabled and shouldn’t be executed.

Oral arguments are scheduled for Tuesday in Jackson.

Goodin is appealing an adverse 2010 ruling from Newton County Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon, who found Goodin mentally competent and denied his motion for a new trial.

The Supreme Court granted Goodin a hearing in 2009 on claims of mental disability and ineffective work by his case lawyer.

Those post-conviction claims were initially dismissed by Gordon in 2007. In such claims, an inmate argues he has found new evidence — or a possible constitutional issue — that could persuade a court to order a new trial.

Goodin was convicted of capital murder in 1999 in the death of a Union, Miss., shopkeeper.

What prompted the Supreme Court to order a mental disability hearing for Goodin was his claim that his former attorney failed to call for testimony any of the psychiatrists who had diagnosed Goodin as schizophrenic, and that the attorney failed to present records showing the diagnosis of schizophrenia to the trial court.

Goodin also claimed records attesting to his poor academic performance and inability to hold a job should have been introduced.

He claimed his due-process rights were violated because the trial judge ruled on the competency petition without evidence of schizophrenia and low intelligence being introduced.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2009 a hearing was necessary because Gordon, the trial judge, through no fault of this own, wasn’t presented with the evidence needed to decide the mental disability issue.

The legal work of Goodin’s former attorney, Robert Ryan, had been called into question before. Attorneys for Mississippi death row inmate Dale Leo Bishop claimed Ryan — former head of a state agency responsible for representing indigent death row inmates on appeal — suppressed evidence of a bipolar disorder and intentionally sabotaged the case.

Bishop was executed in 2008 after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up his final three appeals.

At Goodin’s trial, records show a surveillance tape played in court depicted Goodin entering Rigdon Enterprises in Union on Nov. 5, 1998. He is seen on the tape stealing money from the cash register as well as taking a VCR and videotape.

The tape also showed 64-year-old Willis Rigdon raising his hands as he was led at gunpoint from the store and forced into his pickup truck.

Rigdon was shot with a pistol after a short trip down a nearby dirt road. He was dumped in a ditch and died later at a hospital.

Mississippi may see most executions since 1950s


June 11, 2012 Source : http://www.timesdaily.com

With four execution so far and two scheduled this month, Mississippi is on pace to have more executions in 2012 than it has had in any year since the 1950s.

The last time Mississippi executed more than four inmates in any single year was in 1961, when five died in the gas chamber. There were eight executions in each of the years 1955 and 1956. In those days, inmates were put to death for crimes like armed robbery, rape or murder. Today, the only crime punishable by death in Mississippi is capital murder — a murder that happens during the commission of another felony.

The increase in executions comes as fewer people are being sentenced to death across the country. Some experts say the upward trend in Mississippi isn’t likely to last.

Don Cabana, a former Mississippi corrections commissioner and author of the book, “Death At Midnight: The Confessions of an Executioner,” said the increase “was absolutely predictable” and has more to do with timing and the pace of appeals than anything else.

“You have a number of people who have been sitting on death row for a long time whose cases kind of simultaneously, or in close proximity, started exhausting their appeals,” Cabana said.

Three of the men executed so far this year were convicted of crimes committed in 1995 and the other was convicted in the 1990 stabbing deaths of four children.

Jan Michael Brawner, who’s scheduled for execution on Tuesday, was convicted in the 2001 killings of his 3-year-old daughter, his ex-wife and her parents in Tate County. Gary Carl Simmons Jr., scheduled to die by injection June 20, was convicted of shooting and dismembering a man in Pascagoula over a drug debt in 1996.

“Mississippi went for a long time with no executions, or hardly any executions. It’s due to the slowness of the appellate process. But now these cases are coming to fruition,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit group that collects and analyzes information on the death penalty.

Jim Craig, an attorney who has worked on appeals for death row inmates, believes there’s more to it than that.

Craig said that seven out of 11 men executed in Mississippi since 2008 were represented on appeal by the Mississippi Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel when it was led by attorney Bob Ryan, who took over the office in 2002. Glenn S. Swartzfager took over the office in 2008.

In a 2006 affidavit obtained by The Associated Press, Ryan described a situation in which the office lacked manpower and funding and he sometimes relied on trial summaries when filing appeals in numerous cases. At one point, he was essentially “the sole counsel on 21 cases,” he wrote in the affidavit.

Craig says he’s convinced that some of those men would be alive, either still appealing their cases or having their death sentences reduced, if they had better representation. Craig said many appeals were filed based only on the court transcript, and the post-conviction office didn’t bother to interview witnesses.

“This is more than just the usual things moving at the usual speed. This is a breakdown in the system of providing lawyers to poor people when the state is trying to execute them,” he said.

The Mississippi Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel was created by the Legislature in 2000 to represent indigent death row inmates in appeals.

“A pace of one or two executions a year is about what Mississippi has averaged. The reason why we have had 11 since 2008, I think it has to do with the failures of the post-conviction office in those years,” Craig said.

The number of executions in Mississippi has fluctuated from year to year. There were two executions last year, three in 2010, none in 2009 and two in 2008. There also have been long gaps in executions over the years because of litigation. There were lulls between 1964 and 1983 and again from 1989 to 2002.

So far this year, Mississippi is only one execution behind Texas. Texas, however, has more executions scheduled for the remainder of the year than Mississippi. Texas has executed some 460 more people than Mississippi since 1976, but Texas has a much larger population.

There are 52 inmates on death row in Mississippi, which ranks 15th among death penalty states. Two of the inmates on Mississippi’s death row are women, though it has been decades since a woman was executed in Mississippi. California has the most death row inmates with around 723.

Richard Jordan, 66, who was first convicted in 1977, is the oldest person on Mississippi’s death row and has been there the longest, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Jordan has an appeal pending in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

MISSISSIPPI – UPDATE – Mississippi Supreme Court refuses Brawner reprieve


June 12, 2012 Source : http://www.commercialappeal.com

JACKSON — The Mississippi Supreme Court has denied a request to stay today’s execution of a Southaven man convicted of killing his 3-year-old daughter, his former wife and her parents.

The court’s decision on Monday capped a round of legal briefs filed in the case of 34-year-old Jan Michael Brawner, who is scheduled to die by injection at 6 tonight.

Brawner’s lawyer said he would file a petition this morning with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Brawner was sentenced to death for the April 25, 2001, shooting deaths of his daughter, Paige; his former wife, Barbara Craft; and her parents, Carl and Jane Craft. Brawner killed them in their Tate County home, stole about $300 and used his former mother-in-law’s wedding ring to propose to his girlfriend the same day, according to court records.

Brawner admitted to the killings. During the sentencing phase of his trial, he declined to have anyone testify on his behalf with mitigating testimony, which could have been used to sway jurors to spare his life.

“As far as life, I don’t feel that I deserve to live,” Brawner testified at the time.

Subsequent lawyers have argued that Brawner’s trial attorney did a poor job by not calling such mitigating witnesses as his mother and a psychiatrist, who could have testified about things that had happened to him in life.

Brawner’s lawyer, David Calder, had argued earlier Monday in a court filing that his client could be the first person executed in the U.S. on a tie vote of judges. The Mississippi Supreme Court voted 4-4 last week to deny a rehearing in the case. Justice Ann Lamar didn’t vote. She was district attorney in Tate County when the slayings occurred. By the time of the trial in April 2002, she was a Circuit Court judge, though she didn’t preside over the trial.

In court procedures, a tie vote usually means an earlier ruling stands.

Calder asked the justices to suspend court rules that prohibit people from asking a second time for a rehearing and to issue a stay of execution.

The court voted 4-3 against the motion to suspend the rules and against a stay of execution. Lamar and Chief Justice Bill Waller didn’t vote this time. A court spokeswoman said Waller was unable to attend Monday’s conference of justices. Waller voted to deny the rehearing last time.

Brawner went to his former in-laws’ home after learning his former wife planned to stop him from seeing their child. He gave conflicting statements to police and during testimony, saying at times he wanted to borrow money and at other times that he was going to rob his father-in-law.

Court records said he was waiting at the Crafts’ home when his former wife arrived with her mother and the child. After becoming agitated, he went to his car and got a rifle he had stolen from the house earlier in the day. He shot the former mother-in-law first, then his ex-wife. His daughter, Paige, watched the killings, court records said.

“After Brawner determined that Paige would be able to identify him, and in his words, he ‘was just bent on killing,’ he went back into the bedroom and shot his daughter twice, killing her,” court records say. He shot and killed Carl Craft when he got home from work and stole his wallet and the ring.

June 6, 2012 Source : http://www.clarionledger.com

A death row inmate is asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to stay his execution scheduled for next Tuesday and grant him a new hearing.

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in a 4-4 earlier this week not to allow a rehearing on previous arguments in the case of Jan Michael Brawner. Justice Ann Lamar didn’t participate.

In court procedures, a tie vote usually means an earlier ruling stands. However, Brawner’s lawyers argue there’s precedent in Mississippi that says a tie vote in death penalty cases should favor the condemned inmate.

Brawner claims his previous appeals lawyer didn’t do a good job and he wants an oral hearing on the matter.

Brawner, now 34, was convicted of the 2001 killings of his 3-year-old daughter, ex-wife and former father-in-law and mother-in-law Tate County.

 ————————————–

June 6, 2012 Source : http://www.fox40tv.com

JACKSON, Miss.  – The Mississippi Supreme Court won’t reconsider an appeal from an inmate scheduled for execution June 12.

Jan Michael Brawner argued his legal case suffered because of ineffective assistance by Bob Ryan, former head of the state office meant to handle post-conviction appeals for people sentenced to death.

Brawner, now 34, was convicted of the 2001 killings of his 3-year-old daughter, ex-wife and former father-in-law and mother-in-law the Tate County community of Sarah.

According to trial testimony, Brawner went to his former in-laws’ home after learning his former wife planned to stop him from seeing their child; he also had no money and contemplated robbing his former in-laws. Brawner admitted to the killings at trial and told a prosecutor he deserved death.

Justices ruled 4-4 Tuesday not to reconsider Brawner’s appeal.