Miss. AG: State hospital not equipped for Billiot

Published 2:48 pm Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mississippi’s mental hospital isn’t properly equipped to handle a death row inmate whose execution was blocked by a federal judge, who ruled the inmate was insane, state authorities argued in court records.

James Billiot slaughtered three members of his family in North Hancock County with a sledgehammer on Thanksgiving 1981. Much of his time on death row has been consumed by delusions, according to some doctors.

U.S. District Judge Tom Lee suspended Billiot’s death sentence Nov. 3. He gave Mississippi authorities 60 days to move the 48-year-old inmate to the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield, a sprawling campus in Rankin County.

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“Failure to do so will result in the issuance of a writ for Billiot’s immediate release,” Lee wrote in the order.

Attorney General Jim Hood’s office, however, wants the judge to amend his order to be sure Billiot is not set free if he can’t go to Whitfield because the place “is not satisfactory for the indefinite incarceration of a death row inmate,” according to a motion filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

Hood’s motion said Whitfield’s maximum security unit is over 50 years old, only one police officer guards the unit during the day, none at night and video surveillance is limited, among other problems.

Whitfield officials did not immediately comment.

Under Mississippi law, Billiot’s death sentence could be taken off suspension if he regains his sanity. That creates another dilemma.

Some psychiatrists at Whitfield won’t treat Billiot because they believe it is “unethical” to treat an individual “in an effort to restore him to competency to be executed,” Hood argued.

Billiot’s lawyers also asked the court to reserve the issue of whether Billiot has been forcibly medicated and if he’s found competent in the future, does that mean his competency is “synthetic” due to the medication, according to court records.

One of Billiot’s lawyers, John Henegan, declined to comment on Wednesday.

Over the years, court records show Billiot has claimed to believe delusions like he is Jesus Christ or Adolf Hitler and that he can’t be killed.

Lee said Billiot can’t grasp that he’s going to die.

“Given his delusional state, the court is convinced that Billiot would go to the execution chamber believing that he would not die” and therefore “cannot prepare himself in any spiritual sense for death,” Lee wrote in a 78-page order.