Hood asks federal judge to lift default order

Published 6:23 pm Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The state of Mississippi argues in federal court papers that its preoccupation with appeals by condemned inmate Earl Wesley Berry led to its failure to respond to lethal injection challenges filed by four other death row inmates.

In documents filed recently in U.S. District Court in Greenville, Attorney General Jim Hood admits to the error but argues it was an honest mistake and did no harm.

The state’s inaction prompted the federal court on May 5 to find Hood and his office in default for failure to defend the state against a plaintiff’s claim.

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In his May 6 motion, Hood asks the court set aside the judgment of default.

Berry had joined the other death row inmates in their challenge to lethal injection procedures. However, U.S. District Judge Allen Pepper dismissed Berry as a plaintiff.

Berry is now scheduled for execution on May 21 for the 1987 murder of Mary Bounds. She was beaten to death after leaving her weekly church choir practice, and her body was found off a road in Chickasaw County.

On Monday, the attorneys for Berry and the four other death row inmates said in court documents that the state was seeking “to be rescued” from its failure to respond to the complaint originally filed in October 2007.

However, the inmates’ attorneys said they would agree to dismissal of the default judgment if Berry’s challenge to lethal injection was heard along with those of the others.

That, said attorney Jim Craig of Jackson, would necessitate Pepper stopping Berry’s execution and an agreement from Hood not to seek any more execution dates pending resolution of the case.

Pepper has not ruled on the motions by Hood or the inmates.

The other inmates were:

— Alan Dale Walker, sentenced for the 1990 rape and murder of 19-year-old Konya Edwards of Long Beach.

— Paul Everett Woodward, sentenced from Perry County for the July 23, 1986, murder, kidnapping, robbery and rape of volunteer Youth Court worker Rhonda Crane.

— Gerald James Holland, sentenced from Adams County for the 1987 beating, suffocation and stabbing death of 15-year-old Krystal D. King.

— Dale Leo Bishop, sentenced from Lee County for his role in beating to death 19-year-old Marcus Gentry of Fulton with a hammer following an argument.

No execution dates have been set for Walker, Woodward, Holland or Bishop. Hood said all four have appeals pending in various federal courts.

The inmates’ lawsuit alleges Mississippi’s current lethal injection procedure causes unnecessary pain and that employees administering the drugs are not properly trained.