Automaker’s appeal of reversal in wrongful death case before Miss. court

Published 11:08 pm Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Mississippi Supreme Court will hear arguments Jan. 10 from Ford Motor Co, which seeks to reinstate a Hinds County jury’s decision that it wasn’t liable for the deaths of two University of Mississippi students involved in a head-on collision.

On June 10, 2003, the jury ruled in favor of Ford in the lawsuit brought by the families of L.C. Tennin III of Jackson and Antoine Alexander of Albany, Ga., who were killed in the crash in November 2001.

According to the court record, Tennin was driving on Mississippi 7 in Marshall County when a Jeep Cherokee crossed into Tennin’s lane and collided with the front of his Ford Explorer.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The wrongful death lawsuit had alleged the blaze that erupted after the wreck was caused by a faulty fuel system on the 1997 Explorer. Ford Motor Co., however, maintained the students’ deaths were the result of the impact of the crash and not the fire.

A Hinds County judge ordered a new trial after Felecia Perkins, attorney for the families of the students, argued that the verdict should not be allowed to stand because Ford and its attorneys routinely concealed evidence.

After the trial opened May 27, 2003, the trial judge had fined Ford Motor Co. $50,000 for contempt of court after the automaker violated an order to produce all documents the company attorneys had contended were privileged before the trial’s beginning.

The judge said the documents weren’t produced until two days after the trial began.

The wrongful death case is among dozens the Supreme Court will hear during the January-March term.

Some cases will be decided using attorneys’ briefs rather than oral argument, including the appeal of Edgar Ray Killen. The Supreme Court announced in December that oral arguments were not necessary in Killen’s appeal.

Killen, 81, was convicted on three counts of manslaughter on June 21, 2005 — exactly 41 years after Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman were killed. The three were helping blacks to register to vote in Neshoba County. Witnesses testified that Killen helped plan the slayings.

The young men’s bodies were found two months later buried in an earthen dam.

Also before the Supreme Court:

— Arguments are scheduled for Jan. 16 for former Madison County Constable Eddie Gilmer’s appeal of his 15-year sentence for secretly videotaping a woman inside her apartment.

Gilmer was sentenced to the maximum 25 years with 10 years suspended in Madison County in 2004.

Prosecutors said Gilmer used a zoom lens to videotape Deborah Clayton of Ridgeland in 2003 while he sat in his car in a parking lot. Clayton testified she sat, often with her feet propped up, near the door to get better reception on her cell phone.

— Arguments are scheduled for Feb. 13 for death row inmate Charles Wayne Ross, who was convicted in the killing of a Dumas community man in 1996. Ross was convicted of capital murder and robbery in 1997 in Tippah County.

Prosecutors said Hershel Ray Yancey, 52, was shot four times as he sat on the couch in his home on June 28, 1996.

Ross claimed he was at a Union County residence where his half-sister lived at the time of the shooting. However, his half-sister Margaret Jones, the prosecution’s key witness, claimed Ross admitted to the crime.

— The state College Board’s appeal of a ruling that allowed two Jackson State University students charged in an on-campus shooting to return to class.

A Hinds County judge in 2005 issued a temporary injunction that allowed Anthony Hales and Kenneth Hair back in school pending a formal hearing on the appeal of their a one-year suspension.

Hales and Hair were suspended after an August 2005 shooting in the Jacob L. Reddix Union. One student was shot and recovered from his wound.

The fraternity to which Hales and Hair belonged was also suspended.

— The post-conviction appeal of death row inmate Lawrence Branch, who was convicted in Carroll County in 2002.

Branch was sentenced to death in the beating and robbery of Dorothy Broome Jorden of Coila. Jorden was found on her living room floor on Jan. 21, 2001. She had been struck the head at least eight times, authorities said.

— Michael Joseph Kramm’s appeal of his 25-year sentence for being intoxicated when the SUV he was driving struck a car and killed a college student. He was convicted in 2005 in Harrison County of felony DUI, driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident.

Killed in the Dec. 5, 2002, accident was Treacy Staunton, a student at William Carey College in Hattiesburg.

Prosecutors said the vehicle Staunton and four other students were riding in was stopped for a traffic light on U.S. 90 near Edgewater Mall on the coast when Kramm rear-ended it. The other students were not seriously injured.