Three death row appeals before Miss. Supreme Court in new term

Published 6:56 pm Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Three death row inmates pursuing new trials will have their latest arguments heard this term by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

The cases are among dozens the Supreme Court will consider during the July-September term. The court will not hear oral arguments in the cases. Justices instead will rely on attorneys’ briefs to make their decision.

The three death row inmates are back before the Supreme Court on post-conviction petitions. Inmates use such petitions to raise new issues they believe might win them a new trial.

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The Mississippi Supreme Court in 1990 upheld the conviction of Edwin Hart Turner, who has been on death row since 1997. Also in 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Turner’s appeal.

Turner was sentenced to death for killing two Carroll County men, Eddie Brooks and Everett Curry.

Turner, of Leflore County, and Paul Murrell Stewart of Greenwood were indicted for the double slayings and on a single count each of armed robbery. In a plea agreement, Stewart was sentenced to two life sentences without parole and testified against Turner.

Brooks, a 37-year-old clerk at Mims Auto Truck Village on U.S. 82 East, was killed on the job on Dec. 13, 1995. Shortly thereafter, Curry, 38, 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.

Turner previously has argued that his arrest without a warrant was illegal. He said law officers had no eyewitnesses to the crime and had no other evidence to link him to the murders. He also argued because his arrest was illegal, the evidence that officers seized from his house could not be used at his trial.

The Mississippi Supreme Court said officers have authority to make arrests when a felony has been committed and they think they have found the suspect or suspects.

Death row inmate Stephen Elliot Powers is back before the state court after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 refused to hear his appeal.

Powers was sentenced to death in Forrest County for the 1998 killing of a University of Southern Mississippi student.

Powers has argued that attempted rape is not a felony that would support a capital murder charge or conviction. In Mississippi, capital murder is defined as murder committed along with another felony.

The argument has been rejected by Mississippi courts.

Powers was convicted in Forrest County of murdering 27-year-old Beth Lafferty, who was shot five times during an attack at her home, including three times in the back of her head. The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld Powers’ death sentence in 2003.

According to the court record, Powers confessed in a written statement that he and Lafferty struggled with a gun and that he shot Lafferty, but he specifically denied having sex with the woman.

The Mississippi court ruled the physical evidence clearly revealed that there was an attempt to rape the woman.

The Mississippi Supreme Court will consider a second post-conviction claim from Gary Carl Simmons Jr., whose first petition was turned down in 2004.

Simmons, a former butcher, was convicted in Jackson County of capital murder in 1997 and sentenced to death for chopping up the body of a Texas drug dealer and raping the victim’s girlfriend.

In upholding the sentence in 2001, the Supreme Court rejected Simmons’ arguments that he didn’t get a fair trial. Simmons had claimed a trial judge excluded evidence that could have led to conviction on a lesser charge of manslaughter.

Jeffrey Wolfe, 21, was killed in August 1996 after he came to Simmons’ Pascagoula home to collect on a drug debt.

Timothy Milano, Simmons’ co-defendant and the person authorities said shot Wolfe, was convicted on the same charges and sentenced to life in prison. The Supreme Court upheld Milano’s conviction in 2001.

Simmons got consecutive life sentences on the kidnapping and rape counts. Those sentences also were upheld by the Supreme Court.

Simmons worked as a grocery store butcher when he and Milano were charged with killing Wolfe. Police said the pair kidnapped Wolfe and his female friend and later assaulted the woman and locked her in a box.

Police found parts of Wolfe’s dismembered body at Simmons’ house, in the yard and at an adjacent bayou.