Appeals court denies death sentence appeal

Published 1:11 pm Thursday, September 9, 2010

A federal appeals court has turned down the appeal of Benny Joe Stevens, who was convicted of capital murder in the slaying of four people in Marion County.

In court documents, Stevens attacked the jury selection in his 1999 trial.

A federal judge dismissed that argument in 2008 and a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Tuesday upheld that decision.

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The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld Stevens’ conviction and four death sentences in 2001.

Stevens was convicted of killing a couple and two children in 1998 in a mobile home in the Foxworth community. Stevens’ ex-wife and their 11-year-old son were among those killed. Stevens’ 16-year-old daughter was wounded but escaped from the mobile home.

Stevens had sought on a certificate of appealability on the jury selection issue.

A COA is similar to a post-conviction petition, in which an inmate argues he has found new evidence — or a possible constitutional issue — that could persuade a court to order a new trial.

Stevens had claimed prosecutors violated his rights by keeping a black woman from sitting on his jury. Stevens is white. His trial jury was composed of 11 whites and one black.

The 5th Circuit panel said Stevens failed to show any deliberate effort by prosecutors to keep blacks off the jury.