mississippi

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.”

Advertisements

Tennessee will keep lethal injections for death row executions, court rules


Judge rejects claim from 33 death row inmates and says they did not prove the one-drug method led to a painful and lingering death

A judge in Tennessee has upheld the state’s lethal injection process for executing inmates, hours after a federal judge in Mississippi said that state’s process may break the law.

At issue in both cases is the efficacy of the states’ execution drugs. US states have been experimenting with various combinations of lethal injection since a European-led boycott made it difficult to obtain the drugs they require to carry out executions.

Tennessee uses a single drug, pentobarbital, to execute its inmates; Mississippi relies on a three-drug mixture including a pentobarbital or midazolam, sedatives that are followed by a paralysing agent and a drug that stops an inmate’s heart.

In Tennessee, Davidson county chancery judge Claudia Bonnyman said from the bench that the plaintiffs, 33 death row inmates, did not prove that the one-drug method led to a painful and lingering death.

She also said the plaintiffs did not show during a lengthy trial that there had been problems in states where the method was used.

“Plaintiffs were not able to carry their burdens … on any of their claims,” Bonnyman said.

She also said the plaintiffs did not show during a lengthy trial that there had been problems in states where the method was used.

“Plaintiffs were not able to carry their burdens … on any of their claims,” Bonnyman said.

In Mississippi, meanwhile, US district judge Henry T Wingate said Mississippi’s plans did not appear to include a drug meeting the legal requirement for an “ultra short-acting barbiturate” that would render a person unconscious almost immediately.

Three death row prisoners sued, saying they could remain conscious during execution. During the lawsuit, Mississippi changed its procedure to say it would use midazolam as a sedative, after the US supreme court approved the drug’s use in Oklahoma.

Mississippi officials have said they struggle to buy pentobarbital because death penalty opponents had pressured manufacturers to cut off the supply.

Midazolam has been implicated in troubled executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma that went on longer than expected as inmates gasped and made other sounds.

The US supreme court ruled five to four in June that Oklahoma’s use of midazolam in executions did not violate the eighth amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

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 Michelle Byrom to get new trial


April 1, 2014

(CNN) — A new trial has been ordered for Mississippi death row inmate Michelle Byrom, according to a state Supreme Court opinion issued Monday.

Byrom’s capital murder conviction was reversed, and the case has been remanded to the circuit court for a new trial, the opinion said.

“We are very grateful that the Mississippi Supreme Court has granted Michelle Byrom’s request for relief from her death sentence,” said Byrom’s attorney, David Calder. “This was a team effort on the part of the attorneys currently representing Michelle, and we believe that the court reached a just and fair result under the facts presented in this case.”

Byrom has been on death row since her 2000 conviction for capital murder. The 57-year-old woman was convicted of being the mastermind of a murder-for-hire plot to kill her allegedly abusive husband, a killing her son had admitted to committing in several jailhouse letters and, according to court documents, in an interview with a court-appointed psychologist.

He recanted when he was put on the stand, according to court records.

Attorney General Jim Hood, who had requested Byrom’s execution, said Monday his office would seek the court’s reasoning for the reversal.

“While we respect the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision, it is important that the trial court know and understand the specific errors that were found by the justices so that the lower court knows the best way to proceed,” he said. “Our citizens can once again take comfort in the fact that we have a legal system that works for all parties involved.”

The Supreme Court opinion noted that the decision “is extraordinary and extremely rare in the context of a petition for leave to pursue post-conviction relief.”

Oliver Diaz, the former presiding justice of the Supreme Court, called the opinion “actually kinda amazing,” from the order for a new trial to the ruling’s release on a Monday instead of a Thursday, as usual.

“The lawyers filed a last ditch motion for additional post conviction relief. These are almost never granted. Defendants are limited to a single post conviction motion,” he wrote in an e-mail to CNN. “It is extremely rare to grant and send back for a new trial.”

The court further instructed that a different judge should be assigned to Byrom’s new trial.

Circuit Judge Thomas J. Gardner, who imposed the death sentence on Byrom after her conviction, declined to comment to CNN, saying, “The matter is ongoing.”

Diaz also said the order for a new judge was extraordinary.

“Also, taking the step of removing the original trial judge is very unusual as well,” he wrote.

Tara Booth, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, said the department expects an order Tuesday to transfer Byrom from the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility to Tishomingo County, where the killing occurred.

Hood, the attorney general, had requested that Byrom be executed “on or before (the date of) March 27,” but the Mississippi Supreme Court, which has the final say on execution dates, denied Hood’s request.

During Michelle Byrom’s original trial, prosecutors said she plotted to kill her husband, who was fatally shot in his home in Iuka, Mississippi, in 1999 while Michelle was in the hospital receiving treatment for double pneumonia. A jury convicted her based on evidence and testimony alleging that she was the mastermind of the plot.

Byrom Jr. admitted in jailhouse letters that he had committed the crime on his own after growing tired of his father’s physical and verbal abuse, and a court-appointed psychologist has said that Byrom Jr. told him a similar story.

On the stand, Byrom Jr. pinned the slaying on one of his friends, whom he said his mother had hired for $15,000.

Following her attorney’s advice, Michelle Byrom waived her right to a jury sentencing, allowing the judge to decide her fate. He sentenced her to death.

Prior to Monday’s ruling, Michelle Byrom’s defense attorneys had filed a motion asking the court for additional discovery so the alleged confession to the court-appointed psychologist could be fully explored.

The defense attorneys also want to depose the prosecutor from her trial, Arch Bullard, regarding his knowledge of Byrom Jr.’s alleged confession to the psychologist.

Bullard has told CNN that he firmly believes Michelle Byrom was the mastermind of the murder-for-hire plot.

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.

Death row inmate Willie Manning granted DNA testing


 

Jul. 25, 2013

 

The Mississippi Supreme Court has given death row inmate Willie Jerome Manning the chance to argue before a judge for DNA and fingerprint testing that he alleges will show him innocent in the deaths of two college students.

The high court on Thursday gave Manning 60 days to file a brief in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court, where he was convicted, to support his motion for DNA testing and fingerprint analysis.

The order reversed an earlier decision in which the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against Manning’s request for DNA testing.

Manning argues that technological strides in the past two decades in DNA testing could lead to proof that he is innocent of killing two Mississippi State University students in 1992.

The Supreme Court had stopped Manning’s execution on May 7 so it could further review his arguments.

The bodies of Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller were found in rural Oktibbeha County in December 1992. Manning, now 44, was convicted in 1994 and sentenced to death. Prosecutors said Manning was arrested after he tried to sell some items belonging to the victims.

Manning’s efforts to stop his execution were supported by the U.S. Justice Department. The department had said there were errors in FBI agents’ testimony about ballistics tests and hair analysis in the case.

The FBI said its microscopic analysis of evidence, particularly of hair samples found in the car of one of the victims, contained erroneous statements. The FBI also said there was incorrect testimony related to tests on bullets in the case.

The FBI has offered to conduct the DNA testing.

Manning’s lawyers said in filings with the Mississippi Supreme Court that the execution should be blocked based on the Justice Department’s disclosures and until further testing could be done.

The Mississippi attorney general’s office rebutted that testing wouldn’t exonerate Manning because the evidence is so overwhelming.

Also Thursday, the state Supreme Court denied Manning’s request for a hearing on the Justice Department’s filings on the reliability of expert testimony. It also denied Manning’s request to have his convictions set aside.

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 – GARY CARL SIMMONS, JR.- Execution – June 20, 2012 6:00 p.m EXECUTED 6:16 p.m


Last Statement

“I’ve been blessed to be loved by some good people, by some amazing people. I thank them for their support. Let’s get it on so these people can go home. That’s it,” Simmons said as he lay strapped on a gurney in the execution chamber moments before the procedure was carried out.

Gary Carl Simmons Jr.

Source : Mississippi Court NO. 97-DP-01550-SCT

FACTS
In the early morning hours of August 11, 1996, Jeffery Wolfe and Charlene Brooke Leaser drove from Houston, Texas, to Jackson County, Mississippi. They had only known each other a few weeks. Wolfe asked Leaser to accompany him on a trip to the Gulf Coast to “pick up some money” from some friends that were in his debt. Leaser later learned that the debt accrued some weeks earlier from a transaction involving drugs. While on the Gulf Coast, Wolfe also planned to buy new wheel rims and tires for his vehicleand then return through New Orleans with Leaser for a short vacation. Wolfe left Houston with twelve hundred dollars in his wallet. Leaser had approximately two hundred dollars in her purse.
Upon their arrival on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, they checked into the King’s Inn Hotel. Wolfe and Leaser fell asleep. Wolfe awoke early and left Leaser at the Hotel to meet Sonny Milano, Timothy Milano’s brother, who worked at a local tire store. Apparently, they met a few weeks earlier while Wolfe was on the Coast conducting his illicit business deal. Later that afternoon, Wolfe and Sonny returned to the hotel room to pick up Leaser for dinner. Sonny Milano left to get his girlfriend and the four met in Wolfe and Leaser’s room at the hotel. They all took Wolfe’s white Honda Civic to Shoney’s where they dined together

Sonny Milano testified that during dinner, Wolfe asked if Sonny planned to go to Simmons’ house that evening. Sonny Milano, over loud protests from his girlfriend, decided to go to Simmons’ house, arriving there late that evening after dropping her off. When he arrived, Simmons and Sonny’s brother, Milano, were the only two at the house. Simmons asked Sonny if he had seen Wolfe and Sonny told him that they ate dinner together. Simmons asked Sonny to get in touch with Wolfe. Sonny contacted Wolfe at his hotel room and told Wolfe that he was at Simmons’s house. Wolfe was pleasantly surprised to hear that Sonny was there, since Sonny’s girlfriend was opposed to his going. Wolfe told Sonny that he would be there in a minute.

Sonny conveyed this information to Simmons, who less than one minute later, approached Sonny as he talked to Milano and asked him to leave the house. Sonny testified that he did not find this unusual because “that’s just Gary.” Sonny left without explanation, with Wolfe on his way.
After dinner, as the couples parted ways, Wolfe and Leaser returned to their hotel where they relaxed before leaving to meet Wolfe’s debtors. They drove out to Simmons’s house but found no one home. After leaving the house to pick up cigarettes and a beverage, Wolfe and Leaser returned to the hotel. To pass the time, the two then went to Wal-Mart, and again tried to meet Simmons at his house. Still, no one was home. By this time it was nearly 10 in the evening, August 12, 1996. Again, they returned to the hotel. Near midnight, Wolfe received a phone call while Leaser stood outside smoking a cigarette. Wolfe hung up the phone, gathered Leaser, and left the hotel headed toward Simmons’s house.

Upon arriving at the house, they found Simmons sitting on the front porch. The three began talking, and Simmons offered them some marijuana. Leaser and Simmons smoked a marijuana cigarette, but Wolfe refrained. Milano drove up as they finished the marijuana. Simmons was related to the Milanos by marriage; Simmons married their sister, Lori, but that marriage ended in divorce. Simmons offered his guests a beer, and all four adjourned to the kitchen and living room area. Simmons walked into the kitchen to get a beer while Leaser sat down at a table in the living room to roll another marijuana cigarette.

Leaser heard Wolfe and Milano chatting in the doorway separating the kitchen and living room. Wolfe mentioned the money he was owed. Apparently, Simmons and Milano owed Wolfe between twelve and twenty thousand dollars. They did not have the money, nor did they have the drugs. Simmons returned from the kitchen while Wolfe and Milano discussed this predicament. Leaser testified that she heard gunshots and saw Wolfe fall to the ground. Immediately there after, Simmons grabbed Leaser and ordered her not to look in the direction of Wolfe’s body. Leaser noticed Milano standing directly behind Wolfe holding what was later identified as State’s exhibit 29, a .22 caliber rifle.

Simmons took her to a back bedroom of the house and forced her to lie face down on the floor. He placed himself on top of her and began questioning her, asking whether she or Wolfe were law enforcement officers, whether Wolfe had any drugs with him, and who knew they were in Mississippi. She became understandably hysterical and simply responded that she did not know anything, as she and Wolfe had only become acquainted a few weeks ago. After Simmons finished questioning Leaser, he tied her hands behind her back, bound them to her feet with some rope, and locked her in a metal box with dimensions similar to a large footlocker near his bedroom, telling her he was “on a time frame” that he could not “mess up.”

Leaser managed to untie her hands and feet and began kicking the top of the box unsuccessfully trying to get out. Leaser continued kicking the top of the box until Simmons returned. He removed her from the box, stripped her nude, tied her up again and returned her to the box. Again, Leaser managed to free herself from the knotted ropes, but remained unable to get the top off of the metal box holding her. After some length of time had passed, Simmons returned to the box and took Leaser out. Simmons was undressed. He again forced her to lie face down on the floor of the bedroom. Leaser was in the middle of her menstrual cycle, so Simmons forced her to remove her tampon. He then raped her, telling her that her life depended on how well she performed sexually. Leaser testified that she thought he was holding a pistol to the back of her head during the assault.
Afterward, Simmons asked Milano if he would like to rape her as well; Milano declined. Simmons then took Leaser to the bathroom, allowed her to clean up with an athletic sock; and yet again, tied her up and locked her in the box.

While Leaser was secured in the box, Simmons and Milano went about their plan to dispose of Wolfe’s body. Simmons, by trade, was a butcher in a meat market. Simmons’s co-worker, Charles Jenkins, testified that during the preceding workweek, Simmons sharpened all of his knives and took them home from work for the weekend. Jenkins testified that this was rather unusual because everyone normally leaves their knives at work. Apparently, the only time that Jenkins could remember anyone taking their knives home was before leaving on an extended vacation or quitting the job. Simmons took those knives and began dismembering Wolfe in the bathtub. After gutting him and severing his head and limbs, Simmons, with Milano’s help, began distributing Wolfe’s remains into the bayou that ran behind Simmons’s property using a boat Simmons borrowed from neighbor Donald Taylor only hours before. Alligators were known to inhabit the area. The bayou had a running current that eventually, through tributaries, fed into the Gulf of Mexico.

Leaser, still locked in the box, again untied herself. Simmons returned to the box smoking marijuana and offered some to Leaser. She accepted. After sharing the marijuana cigarette, Simmons locked Leaser in the box with a blanket, where she fell asleep. She awoke to the sound of the telephone ringing. When no one answered it, Leaser reasoned that the house was empty. She mustered all of her energy and began banging on the top of the box. The lid popped off and Leaser managed to get out of the house. On her wayout of the door, she grabbed a bag with some of her clothes and belongings in it. She then partially dressed herself. Leaser ran to a neighbor’s house and convinced the neighbor to call the police. Upon their arrival, Leaser recounted the events of the previous twenty-four hours.

Many different law enforcement agencies were involved in investigating the scene of the crime. Leaser told police officers that Wolfe was inside, had been shot, and that she had been raped. Once the police arrived, they began to secure the area and investigate Leaser’s claims. Moss Point police officers Lee Merrill and Richard Cushman entered the house with Leaser to determine if a crime had, in fact, beencommitted and if so, whether other victims were still in the house. Once the police officers saw blood and other evidence of violent crimes, they left the house and secured a search warrant.

After obtaining a search warrant, the police called the Mississippi Crime Lab, and they entered the house to gather evidence. From inside the house, they collected portions of fingernails from a wastebasketa used condom, and two used tampons, among other things. The local police department also recovered a Marlin model # 60 .22 caliber rifle, eight empty .22 caliber shell casings, and Wolfe and Leaser’s personal items originally left in their hotel room.

Near the rear of the property, a small “jon boat” was spotted near the water. Officers Magee and Graff investigated and requested that Officer Cushman join them. Near the boat they found four five gallon white buckets, one green plastic barrel, a one gallon bottle of Clorox bleach, a brush, a knife, and a bushhook. The brush and bushhook appeared to be covered in blood. An aluminum boat paddle was covered in bloody finger prints. In the boat, the officers discovered a piece of flesh. The local coroner called Dr. Paul McGarry to help with the investigation. Outside the house, but still on or very near Simmons’s property, Dr. McGarry found the rest of Wolfe’s body. Dr. McGarry testified that he and a group of police officers floated approximately two hundred yards down the bayou over which they found various parts of the skin, muscle, chest, abdominal walls, penis and testicles, lungs, heart, intestines, liver, as well as fingers and toes from a young human white male.

Dr. McGarry testified that the body parts had been cut sharply and with precision into block like sections of tissue. Most of the bones had been separated. Of the flesh he found and examined, several pieces had bullet holes in them. One portion of the chest had five bullet holes in it while another portion revealed one bullet hole. Some of the internal organs, the heart and lungs specifically, also had bullet holes in them. The left lung had a bullet lodged in it. Dr. McGarry testified that these gunshot wounds were the cause of death.
A further search of the area revealed Wolfe’s severed head, upper chest portion, and pelvic area sans reproductive organs. Over two days of searching, they found, on the first day, eighty-five pounds of human remains the largest of which was seventeen inches in diameter. The following day, they collected forty-one pounds of similar pieces, with the largest piece measuring nineteen inches. Some pieces found later were large enough to have identifiable tatoos. All of the flesh was identified as belonging to Wolfe.
Simmons left his house after dismembering and disposing of Wolfe. He drove to Mobile, Alabama, where he made a videotape for his ex-wife and children. Throughout the video recording, Simmons spoke to his family in the most general terms about what he had done, although he never specifically admitted committing any crimes. Simmons mailed the video cassette to his wife and drove back to the Coast. Upon arriving at his house, Simmons noticed that Leaser had escaped. He immediately left again and went to see his friend Dennis Guess.
Guess testified that while they were conversing, Simmons volunteered that he had just “whacked a drug dealer,…deboned him, cut him up in little pieces, and put him in the bayou.” Simmons told Guess that he used a butcher knife and bolt cutters to accomplish the task. Simmons also told Guess that he had a girl in a box and planned to “train her” and “keep her around as a sex toy,” but confessed that she had escaped. The conversation then turned to what realistic options Simmons had left. Simmons, after further discourse with Guess on this subject, decided against fleeing the jurisdiction or committing suicide. He eventually decided to turn himself in to the authorities.