Billiot’s lawyers say Whitfield can treat him

Published 1:25 pm Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mississippi’s state mental hospital has treated numerous felons over the years, and there’s no reason for state officials to disregard a federal judge’s order to send death row inmate James Billot there, his lawyers argue.

In documents filed in U.S. District Court this past week, Billiot’s attorney, John Henegan, said the attorney general’s office is wrong to suggest the facility can’t handle Billiot.

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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Otherwise, Lee said he would order Billiot freed.

Attorney General Jim Hood contends Whitfield cannot treat Billiot indefinitely because of aging facilities and inadequate security.

Whitfield director James G. Chastain has also said the Mississippi State Hospital “does not have sufficient security capacity to safely confine a death row inmate.”

Henegan said Whitfield has housed and treated mentally disabled felons since the 1950s. He said the facility housed Billiot for a brief time in 1980 after his arrest for capital murder and after a judge ordered a mental competency examination.

“It is obviously still the regular practice for capital felons who have been incarcerated at Parchman and for pretrial defendants who have been charged with capital murder and other violent crimes to be sent to the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield where they are housed for what may be extended periods as part of ongoing competency evaluations and/or mental health treatment,” Henegan said in court papers.

Chastain, the facility’s director, told The Associated Press last month that the forensic services division at Whitfield provides pretrial evaluations and treatment for criminal defendants, not long term housing for convict murders.

“Convicted murderers are sent by the court to the correction system to serve their sentence,” he said at the time. “Those defendants acquitted of crimes as not guilty by reason of insanity are committed by the court to MSH to receive treatment for a mental illness.”

Billiot was sentenced to death in 1982 for the Thanksgiving Day 1981 bludgeoning death of his stepfather, 53-year-old Wallace Croll of Hancock County.

Billiot’s mother, 47-year-old Audrey Croll, and stepsister, 14-year-old Cheryl Ann Croll, were also killed with an 8-pound sledgehammer during a robbery at the Crolls’ home in the Leetown community.