Miss. Supreme Court agrees to review Pike murder case

Published 3:13 pm Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Mississippi Supreme Court will hear an appeal from convicted murderer Herman Avara, who contends he has new evidence that might win him another trial for the death of Mamie Arnold.

A Pike County judge rejected Avara’s post-conviction petition in 2006. The state Court of Appeals sided with the trial judge in 2007. The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear Avara’s appeal.

Avara was convicted in Pike County Circuit Court in 1999 in the hanging death of Arnold, who was identified as his girlfriend. He was sentenced to life in prison.

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On June 13, 1998, Arnold was found hanging from a ski rope in a barn just south of the Magnolia home she shared with Avara.

Prosecutors charged that Avara strangled Arnold and then tried to make it appear that the woman committed suicide.

According to court records, Avara claimed Arnold committed suicide, but prosecutors noted her feet were touching the ground, the rope was knotted under the front of the neck, her clothes were dirty and her neck bruised. Witnesses also testified to a number of discrepancies in Avara’s story.

An inmate use a post-conviction petition to argue he has found new evidence that might win him a new trial.

Avara’s post-conviction petition was rejected on grounds that he waited too long to file it. Avara was convicted in 1999. He filed the petition in 2006. State law requires a post-conviction petition to be filed within three years after the time for direct appeal of the conviction or sentence has expired.

Avara said he had new evidence in the document from the Crime Lab that listed the victim as Mamie Avara and the offense as suicide. The same form names the suspect as James Avara. Avara claimed that he did not receive this evidence until June 2006 from the attorney who represented him at trial.

However, the Appeals Court said the medical examiner, whom Avara credited for gathering the information in the form, testified at Avara’s trial and Avara’s attorney cross-examined him.

The Appeals Court said Avara failed to show that his claim of new evidence, if it had been introduced at trial, would have caused a different result at his trial.