AG’s office says execution should not be stopped

Published 4:17 pm Tuesday, July 8, 2008

When Dale Leo Bishop stood in court eight years ago to be sentenced for his role in the brutal murder of a friend, he asked for the death penalty and thanked the judge when he got it. Now he’s scheduled to die July 23 and wants a higher court to spare his life.

After his 2000 conviction, Bishop waived his right to a be sentenced by a jury. He said he deserved to die and declined to provide evidence that might have persuaded the judge to let him live.

Bishop’s new attorneys now argue in court documents that lifelong mental problems prevented the 34-year-old death row inmate from making rational decisions about the case. Bishop also claims his former lawyers failed him.

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Attorney General Jim Hood responded Monday in a 40-page motion filed with the Mississippi Supreme Court. The filing includes excerpts from the hearing in which Bishop was sentenced to death for the murder of 19-year-old Marcus James Gentry.

Just before he was sentenced, Bishop said Gentry needed his “(expletive) kicked” but he did not know an accomplice “was going to go all out like that” and kill the victim, according to the transcript.

Bishop apologized and said the victim was a “good man.” He acknowledged that some of Gentry’s family wanted revenge.

“These people here, some of them would like to kill me. They can’t. They don’t have that authority,” Bishop told the judge.

“So I’m asking you to do what they can’t do, kill me for what I’ve done. I deserve it. I know it. I want you to sentence me to death. That’s it.”

The transcript also shows that the judge asked Bishop specifically if he wanted to waive his right to be sentenced by a jury rather than the judge.

Hood argued that Bishop instructed his original trail attorneys, David Lee Daniels and John Weddle, not to oppose the death penalty. Because they “acted in accord with Bishop’s instructions, their performance was not deficient,” Hood argued.

Bishop’s current attorney, Jim Craig, did not immediately respond Monday to a message.

The U.S. Supreme Court has already declined to hear an appeal of Bishop’s case on the grounds of ineffective legal representation. The Mississippi court did not immediately rule on the matter.

Bishop’s new attorneys also have made sweeping allegations that a lawyer who represented the inmate on appeal suppressed evidence and intentionally sabotaged the case.

One of Bishop’s new attorneys, Glen S. Swartzfager, is the current director of the Office of Capital Post Conviction Counsel, created by state lawmakers in 2000 to help indigent death row prisoners with their appeals.

Swartzfager alleges his predecessor there, Robert “Bob” Ryan, withheld evidence that Bishop had mental problems. Ryan represented Bishop on previous appeals.

The attorney general’s office did not address the allegation in detail in Monday’s motion. Instead, the state argued that even if Bishop’s appellate lawyer was ineffective that’s no reason for an appeal because inmates have no constitutional right to post-conviction representation.

Bishop’s attorneys also want the court to consider arguments that Mississippi’s method of lethal injection is unconstitutional. The court has rejected similar arguments in the past.

Gentry was bludgeoned to death on the night of Dec. 10, 1998.

According to court records, Bishop, Gentry and other friends were out drinking when a man named Jessie Johnson accused Gentry of informing on Johnson’s brother and getting him in trouble with the law. Johnson hit Gentry with a hammer and kicked him. Bishop hit Gentry with his fists and kicked him. He also allegedly held the victim while Johnson beat him.

“The beating lasted long enough for Bishop to finish one beer, to ask for anther person to hold Gentry, to go to the car to retrieve another (beer), and then come back,” according to court records. “The beating was so severe that it was necessary for Bishop to dislodge the hammer from Gentry’s throat.”

The other person with the men that night, Ricky Myhand, later called police.