Miss. executes man for ’94 slaying of motel clerk

Published 1:19 pm Friday, July 23, 2010

Mississippi on Wednesday executed Joseph Daniel Burns for the 1994 stabbing death of a Tupelo motel clerk.

The 42-year-old was given a lethal injection Wednesday evening at the State Penitentiary at Parchman. Burns was pronounced dead at 6:50 p.m. It was Mississippi’s third execution this year.

Burns was convicted of murder in 1996 and was sentenced to death for the slaying of Floyd Melvin McBride at the Town House Motel. Prosecutors said Burns stabbed McBride while an accomplice opened the motel safe, then the two men fled with money from the safe.

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Burns, clad in a red prison jumpsuit and white sneakers, apologized to McBride’s sister and nephew, asking them to forgive him “for this evil and pain I brought on you.”

Strapped to a gurney with IV tubes in his arms, he recited the 23rd Psalm. After the final line — “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” — he added, “You can believe that because that’s where I’m going.”

“All right, devil, let’s do your work. That’s it,” he said as corrections officials cut off the microphone.

After a short time he closed his eyes and was still.

His mother and a sister were on hand as witnesses. No member of Burns’ family came to the media center to speak after the execution. His body was turned over to a Tupelo funeral home.

McBride’s brother-in-law, Greg Gordon of Tupelo, read from a statement in which he asked for prayers for both families.

Gordon said it was only through those prayers that the McBride family could forgive Burns for what he did.

“It is only through God’s love, mercy and grace that we were able to forgive and pray” for Burns, Gordon said.

“Today, justice was served for that senseless act,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour denied Burns’ request for clemency.

“I will not substitute my judgment for that of the courts, which have considered the matter,” Barbour said.

Mississippi allows the death penalty in cases where a person is convicted of murder along with another felony, such as robbery.

Burns had been scheduled to die at 6 p.m., but the U.S. Supreme Court asked the state Wednesday afternoon to delay the execution while justices reviewed issues raised by Burns’ attorneys, including whether Burns was denied a mental evaluation. State officials agreed to the delay.

Less than a half hour after the originally scheduled time, the stay was denied. Soon after the denial was announced, witnesses were escorted to the execution site.

Burns had spent Wednesday in a cell near the death chamber. He visited with his mother, three sisters and two daughters.

Burns did not initially request a last meal, but later changed his mind. Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said Burns had roast beef and turkey sandwiches and a soft drink. Epps said Burns declined a sedative.

Burns’ lawyers claimed in the petition to the U.S. Supreme Court that Mississippi judges should have allowed the inmate’s expert to conduct a psychological evaluation that could have been used for clemency or appeals. Prison officials won’t allow defense experts to have access to death row prisoners without a judge’s order, the petition said.

“When Burns was denied access, he was denied his fundamental constitutional rights,” the lawyers argued.

Burns’ lawyers also claimed his attorney did not properly prepare for the sentencing phase of his trial. The Mississippi Supreme Court rejected a similar argument.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said in papers filed with the high court that Burns had plenty of time to file an appeal with the nation’s highest court.

“By waiting until the last minute to file these actions no other conclusion can be reached other than petitioner is attempting by any means to delay his execution with the tardiness of his filings,” Hood wrote.