US Supreme Court denies stay of execution for Miss. convict

Published 6:12 pm Wednesday, May 21, 2008

PARCHMAN, Miss. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a stay for condemned Mississippi killer Earl Wesley Berry.

The move clears the way for Berry to be executed at 6 p.m. CDT at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman.

Berry, 49, had hoped for a last-minute stay, but first Justice Antonin Scalia, then the full court denied his appeal requests.

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Berry will be the second inmate executed in the nation since the court upheld Kentucky’s lethal injection procedure in April. Before the decision, executions had been on hold across the nation for about seven months.

Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps told reporters at the penitentiary in the Mississippi Delta that Berry was in a much more somber mood than he was last October when the Supreme Court stopped his execution.

Epps asked Berry, who took a sedative after his final meal Wednesday, if he had any remorse for the 1987 abduction and killing of a north Mississippi woman.

“He said he didn’t have any remorse,” Epps said. “He said he felt he had served 21 years and that’s enough.”

Berry was convicted in the murder of Mary Bounds, who he abducted outside her Houston, Miss., church after choir practice, then beat to death before dumping her body along a rural road.

Velma Berry, the inmate’s mother, a brother and sister-in-law and two friends visited with Berry during the afternoon. Family members decided against viewing the execution and left Berry around 4 p.m.

Berry made some phone calls during the day. He ate a last meal of barbecue pork chops, barbecued pork sausages, toast, salad, mashed potatoes and gravy, pecan pie and juice.

Berry’s body was to be released to a Eupora funeral home after execution.

Two members of the victim’s family — Mary Bounds’ daughter, Jena Watson and Rebecca Blissard, a granddaughter — were to witness the execution.

Berry’s lawyers argued he is mentally retarded and therefore constitutionally barred from being executed. In a Supreme Court filing Wednesday, the Mississippi attorney general said Berry unsuccessfully raised the issue of mental retardation previously and that under federal law, he could not do so again.

In a written rebuttal filed in the Supreme Court, Berry’s lawyers argued that he is entitled to a broad review, saying that the 72 IQ score he had in school places him squarely in the range of those who may be mentally retarded.

Amnesty International said in a statement Wednesday that it felt there was “significant evidence that Earl Wesley Berry may have mental retardation” and called on the Mississippi governor to halt the execution.

“In 2002, the Supreme Court banned the execution of people with mental retardation, yet Berry has been denied a hearing because a lawyer missed a deadline. Life and death cannot hinge on simple technicalities,” the organization said.

Gov. Haley Barbour had said Monday that he won’t grant clemency to the convicted murderer.

Georgia became the first state in the nation to execute a death row inmate after the ruling. William Earl Lynd was put to death May 6 for kidnapping and killing his live-in girlfriend.

Georgia’s next execution is scheduled for Thursday night. Samuel David Crowe was sentenced to die in 1989 for killing a manager at a lumber company.

Last October, the Supreme Court stopped Berry’s execution while it mulled the Kentucky case.

Jim Craig, of Jackson, one of Berry’s attorneys, said Tuesday that the appeal argued that Berry is mentally retarded and will attack Mississippi’s lethal injection procedure — both of which have been rejected in the Mississippi courts and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

“The Mississippi protocol for lethal injections does not provide the same safeguards as the process that Kentucky,” Craig said in an interview Tuesday.

“Our Supreme Court papers ask the court to consider … does the Constitution require some court — state or federal — to review the facts of the Mississippi protocol for lethal injections to ensure that it provides adequate safeguards against low doses of anesthetic and other issues that would cause excruciating pain and a torturous death?” Craig said.