By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW ALBANY – A team led by renowned North Carolina death-penalty lawyer Billy Richardson began its arguments Wednesday for the reversal of the 2001 capital murder conviction of Marlon Howell.
“The Mississippi State Supreme Court is always making the statement, ‘Death is different,’ Innocence Project attorney Will McIntosh told Senior Circuit Judge Samac Richardson. “All we’re asking Your Honor to do … is to say the defendant should have a new trial.”
Now 33, Howell was found guilty of the May 15, 2000, shooting death of Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal carrier David Parnell in a robbery, and was sentenced to death. Two co-defendants who pleaded guilty accused Howell of pulling the trigger.
The Mississippi State Supreme Court granted the evidentiary hearing on the basis of three complaints – the recanted testimony of an eyewitness, whether Howell had representation at a lineup in which he was identified and alleged exculpatory statements offered by another potential witness.
New Albany Police Chief David Grisham said he had seen attorney Regan Russell nearby and assumed he’d been appointed as Howell’s counsel.
“I’m testifying that I thought he was there at the lineup,” Grisham said. “I know that he was there in the building that day.”
Russell and longtime public defender Tom McDonough testified that they had not attended the lineup, although McDonough said he may have been involved in Howell’s case briefly.
“Back then, it wasn’t that uncommon for the public defenders to be put on the case and then realize they had a conflict,” he said.
Booneville attorney Duncan “Bubba” Lott, who had defended Howell pro bono both in trial and in appeal, said he had had no reason to doubt the prosecution’s disclosure process but would have called Terkecia Pannell if he had known she had implicated his client – a testimony that she has since recanted.
“We went to trial with no witnesses other than Marlon,” Lott said. “Our defense was to attack the state witnesses.”
Tupelo private investigator Leonard Sanders testified that eyewitness Charles Rice was not pressured to alter the testimony he’d given during Howell’s trial.
Terkecia Pannell James said she was trying to protect then-boyfriend, Brandon Shaw, who was on probation, when she told investigators that she’d seen Howell with a gun. (The handgun believed to be the murder weapon was found outside Shaw’s house.)
“At the time, I was young,” she said. “As a teenager … we did stupid things.”
Pannell-James, now a minister-in-training, said she opposes the death penalty and believes “everybody deserves a second chance.”
She testified Wednesday that she’d seen one of Howell’s co-defendants with the gun, but on cross-examination she admitted her revised testimony reflected secondhand information.
“I know that, because that’s what Brandon told me,” she said.
Howell’s hearing will continue at 9 a.m. today at the Union County Courthouse.