Miss. high court declines to review new sentencing order for robbery defendant

Published 5:37 pm Friday, September 8, 2006

The Mississippi Supreme Court has declined to review an order that Henry Payton be re-sentenced for armed robbery after a trial judge who originally had removed himself from the case was allowed to determine Payton’s punishment.

The Supreme Court, without comment Thursday, let stand a January decision by the Court of Appeals, which ordered a new sentencing hearing for Henry Payton. Prosecutors had asked the Supreme Court to reinstate Payton’s 25-year sentence.

Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon had recused himself from appeals in the case against Payton after a much publicized confrontation with defense attorney Chokwe Lumumba of Jackson.

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Gordon had sentenced Lumumba on Oct. 17, 2001, to three days in jail for comments Lumumba made in court. The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the sentence. Lumumba served the sentence in 2004.

In 2001, Lumumba told Gordon, “I’ve paid other judges to try to get justice, pay you, too, if that is necessary,” according to a court transcript.

Lumumba made the comment after Gordon denied motions after Payton was convicted. Lumumba has contended he did nothing wrong.

After the confrontation with Lumumba, Gordon removed himself in 2002 from further proceedings in Payton’s case. Another judge heard motions in the case.

Payton was convicted on both counts in 1996, but the Supreme Court threw out the convictions in 1999. Payton was retried and convicted in Leake County Court in 2001.

In 2003, the Supreme Court upheld Payton’s convictions but ordered him re-sentenced on the armed robbery count. Gordon presided over the re-sentencing in 2004.

On appeal, Payton argued Gordon should not have been involved in the re-sentencing hearing, citing the judge’s recusal order.

The Appeals Court agreed and threw out Payton’s 25-year sentence for armed robbery. The court said another judge would preside over a new sentencing hearing.

Payton was convicted for his role in a Sept. 29, 1995, fire that destroyed a commercial building. The Bank of Walnut Grove was robbed, and the bank president, Ray Britt, was taken hostage. Investigators arrested Payton and three others.

Payton’s accomplices testified that it was Payton’s idea to burn the building to divert attention from the bank and for them to rob the bank at gunpoint while Payton waited in the getaway car. Payton also allegedly suggested that, if something should go wrong in the bank, the men should take a hostage, according to testimony.

Things went wrong, however, because Payton skipped out on the other three in the getaway car. The three took Britt as hostage and fled.

Lawmen pursued the trio into Scott County where they ultimately were stopped and arrested. Britt was unharmed.