Mississippi executions may continue

Published 10:51 pm Monday, May 30, 2011

JACKSON (AP) — One delay doesn’t stop justice, says Attorney General Jim Hood.

Although the execution of Robert Simon Jr. is on hold, Hood said the clock is ticking on at least three other death row inmates who could be executed before the year is up.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans has turned down petitions by all three inmates, Hood said.

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“This means that Mississippi could see three executions in the late fall, as early as November,” Hood said. “Our office will stay in communications with the victims’ families involved in these cases to keep them updated.”

The three inmates on the list are William Gerald Mitchell, Larry Matthew Puckett and Edwin Hart Turner.

The longest serving inmate on death row, Richard Jordan, has appeals still winding their way through the federal courts. Now 65, Jordan has spent 34 years on death row.

Jordan’s petition for a certificate of appealability has been filed with the 5th Circuit. A federal judge in Mississippi turned down Jordan’s petition last year.

A certificate of appealability is similar to a post-conviction petition, in which an inmate argues he has found new evidence — or a possible constitutional issue — that could persuade a court to order a new trial.

Jordan was sentenced to death in 1977. He was convicted of capital murder and kidnapping in the death of Edwina Marta in Harrison County Jan. 13, 1976. Court records show he kidnapped the woman, took her to a wooded area in north Harrison County and shot her in the back of the head. Prosecutors said he then collected a $25,000 ransom from Marta’s husband.

Two inmates were executed in May: Rodney Gray and Benny Joe Stevens.

Hours before Robert Simon Jr., was to be put to death on May 24 for the 1990 slaying of members of a Quitman County family, his execution was stopped by a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The panel is considering arguments whether a blow to the head that Simon suffered in January has rendered him incompetent to be executed.

The appeals of Mitchell, Puckett and Hart have been on similar grounds: mental disability and/or ineffective counsel.

Mitchell, now 50, was sentenced to death in 1998 in Harrison County. He was convicted of capital murder in the death of Patty Milliken, a 38-year-old store clerk, on the night of Nov. 21, 1995. Prosecutors said Mitchell took Milliken from the store where she worked, brought her under the north end of the Popp’s Ferry Road bridge and killed her by beating her and driving his car over her body.

In May, the 5th Circuit declined to grant Mitchell a certificate of appealability on the grounds of mental retardation and ineffective counsel.

Puckett, now 34, was sentenced to death in 1996 in Forrest County. He was convicted of capital murder and sexual assault in the 1995 death of Rhonda Griffis of the Sunrise community. Authorities said Griffis died from blows to the head.

The 5th Circuit in May denied Puckett’s post-conviction claims that blacks were kept off his trial jury and that prosecutors shouldn’t have been allowed to discuss his post-arrest silence.

Turner, now 37, was sentenced to death in 1997 in Forrest County, where the trial was moved on a change of venue. He was convicted on two counts of capital murder in the 1995 deaths of two Carroll County men: Eddie Brooks and Everett Curry.

Brooks, a clerk at Mims Auto Truck Village on U.S. Highway 82 East, was killed on the job on Dec. 13, 1995. Shortly thereafter, Curry, a prison guard, was shot to death while pumping gasoline into his car at Mims One Stop, also east of Greenwood on U.S. 82, according to the court record.

In February, the 5th Circuit denied Turner’s claim that his trial attorney could have done a better job on his defense.