Mississippi to have back to back executions for first time in 50 years

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 19, 2010

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi corrections officials prepared Tuesday for the first back-to-back executions in nearly 50 years.

Paul Everette Woodward was to be executed Wednesday at the State Penitentiary at Parchman for the 1986 rape and shooting death of 24-year-old Rhonda Crane of Escatawpa. Gerald James Holland was to be put to death Thursday for raping and killing 15-year-old Krystal King in 1987. Holland is the oldest death-row inmate in Mississippi.

The last back-to-back executions occurred in 1961, according to Mississippi Department of Corrections records. Howard Cook was executed on Dec. 19, 1961, and Ellic Lee was put to death the following day. Both had been convicted of rape and died in the gas chamber, which was replaced by lethal injection in 1998.

The Mississippi Supreme Court declined on Monday to stop the executions, paving the way for more appeals to be filed in the federal courts. Appeals by attorneys for both inmates were expected to make their way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

C. Jackson Williams, an Oxford attorney representing Woodward, said plans were to submit a clemency petition to Gov. Haley Barbour on Tuesday.

Barbour has never granted a clemency request to a death row inmate.

‘‘The power to extend mercy rests with the governor, correct?’’ Williams said. ‘‘It rests on all those experiences in his life that determine how he believes forgiveness should be measured. We’ll see again how he views mercy.’’

Williams said the decision was made to present the governor with the petition early rather than wait until a few hours before the execution.

Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said the governor will consider it.

‘‘There’s not an automatic answer,’’ Turner said. ‘‘It depends on the contents of the petition. Everything like that is considered on an individual basis.’’

Williams said he would meet with Woodward later Tuesday to discuss other options.

Attorney General Jim Hood said that he would not expect any appeal to succeed.

‘‘Woodward fully confessed. Holland confessed. Even if they file something before the U.S. Supreme Court I don’t anticipate these executions being stopped,’’ Hood said.

Hood said issues now being raised by Woodward and Holland, including mental disability, have been settled in previous court rulings.

Holland is represented by the Mississippi Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel. A call seeking comment was not immediately returned. However, a Jackson attorney representing 16 death row inmates in a lawsuit claiming inadequate legal representation filed an appeal with the Mississippi Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Attorney Jim Craig said Holland is among the inmates he represents in the lawsuit, which was dismissed Friday by Hinds County Chancery Judge William Singletary. The motion filed Tuesday asks justices to halt Holland’s execution, pending the lawsuit’s appeal.

Suzanne Singletary, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, said Tuesday that Woodward was placed in a holding center Monday next to the execution room at the prison. She said Holland would be moved to a holding cell Tuesday.

Singletary said the prison would be placed on lock down 24 hours before the execution.

‘‘Affidavits have been received for each offender designating final meal, property disposal and so forth,’’ she said.

The inmates will be allowed to make calls to family and meet with their attorneys and a chaplain in the hours before the execution.

Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps has said it costs $11,000 to handle an execution, which includes extra staffing.

The last execution in Mississippi was July 23, 2008, when Dale Leo Bishop was executed for his role in the 1998 slaying of 22-year-old Marcus Gentry of Fulton.