Three death penalty cases back before Miss. Supreme Court

Published 4:51 pm Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Three death row inmates — including two from Bolivar County — are back before the Mississippi Supreme Court with post-conviction claims that they have found new evidence that could lead to new trials.

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

Death row inmates Leroy Lynch and Kevin Scott were convicted in separate trials in 1998 in Bolivar County for the shooting death of 74-year-old Richard Lee.

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The Supreme Court upheld Lynch’s conviction in 2004, rejecting his arguments that he should not have been given the death sentence because he wasn’t the triggerman. Lynch had argued that Scott fired the gun. Lynch claimed all he did was hide in the car.

Prosecutors said Lynch was a willing participant as he and co-defendant Scott stalked Lee from a shopping center in Cleveland to his home intent on stealing the man’s car. Authorities said Lee was shot once in the head and once in the back as he sat in his car in the carport of his Boyle home on Nov. 15, 1995.

Prosecutors said Scott and Lynch left Clarksdale to go to Cleveland to steal a car to replace one Scott wrecked the day before.

Prosecutors said the two men scouted store parking lots around Cleveland before finally spotting Lee’s vehicle outside a grocery store. Lynch and Scott followed Lee to his home.

Prosecutors said Lynch knew Scott had a gun, knew they were going to steal a car and he crouched down in the car as the shooting took place.

The Supreme Court also upheld Scott’s conviction in 2004, rejecting Scott’s claims that he was mentally retarded.

Scott had claimed that there was no clear-cut testimony at his trial about his mental state. Scott claimed there was evidence available that, at an early age, he had an IQ of 40, which rose to a level of 60 when Scott was evaluated for his trial.

The Supreme Court said neither of the experts who were called to discuss Scott’s mental condition testified that Scott was mentally retarded.

In the third case, the Supreme Court will consider the post-conviction petition of death row inmate Quintez Hodges. The court upheld Hodges’ capital murder conviction and death sentence in 2005.

Hodges, of Caledonia, was sentenced to death in 2001 for the July 21, 1999, fatal shooting of Isaac Johnson, 17, and of kidnapping Johnson’s sister, Cora Johnson, and her baby.

Authorities said Isaac Johnson’s body was discovered in the bedroom of his mother’s home in Caledonia. Johnson died of a single gunshot wound to the abdomen.

Authorities said Hodges was the ex-boyfriend of Cora Johnson and the father of her child. The woman and her daughter were not harmed.

Hodges was sentenced to 20 years for kidnapping.

On appeal, Hodges unsuccessfully challenged his attorney’s trial conduct on several fronts. The Supreme Court said defendants sometimes confuse an attorney’s conduct with trial strategy.