By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW ALBANY – Marlon Howell’s death-sentence hearing resumes today in the courtroom where he was convicted in 2001 of capital murder.
Howell, who’s been at his defense table each day of the proceedings, seeks a new trial or a reversal of his conviction in the death of David Pernell, a Daily Journal newspaper carrier, early on the morning of May 15, 2000, in New Albany.
Senior Judge Samac Richardson of Rankin County presides over the hearing which began Wednesday. All the circuit district’s judges withdrew from the case, necessitating his appointment.
At issue are just a few points: whether Howell lacked effective legal counsel at a May 16, 2000, lineup; the credibility of the witness who picked him out in the lineup; and recantations by co-defendants that Howell killed Pernell.
Thursday’s most unusual confrontation came about 10:15 a.m. when Jim Waide of Tupelo, one of Howell’s local appeals attorneys, announced to Richardson that Attorney General Jim Hood threatened Howell’s lead defender with a criminal charge that he paid a witness to lie.
Billy Richardson of North Carolina, who’s advocated for Howell’s innocence for several years, appeared to have the steam come out of his engine after the incident.
“Counsel has got to be worried about this when he’s supposed to be here worried about Mr. Howell,” Waide pressed to the judge, terming Hood’s alleged verbal attack on his colleague as “totally inappropriate” and asking the judge to declare a new trial.
Richardson told the judge, “I’m pretty shook up by this.”
Hood downplayed the accusations, saying he told Richardson his prospective witness, Brandon Shaw, would testify that his former girlfriend, Terkesia Pannell, was paid to testify.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of this,” Hood responded testily.
Hood was district attorney for the Howell case in 2000 and won the attorney general’s race in 2003. He’s assisted in court this week by District Attorney Ben Creekmore and Assistant District Attorney Kelly Luther.
In the end, the judge said he’ll consider what options he has with Hood’s behavior toward Richardson.
“But a new trial is not one of them,” he said and recessed the hearing for two hours.
Pannell testified late Wednesday and into Thursday about what she remembered of events at her home before and after Pernell was shot.
On the stand, she admitted many of her earlier statements were just from what Shaw told her happened while she was asleep in their home.
But she also insisted she never saw Howell with a gun and never heard him say anything about shooting Pernell.
Charles Rice, now of Haleyville, Ala., was the state’s key witness to Howell’s identification at the shooting scene and from a jail lineup.
Thursday, while admitting he lied under oath about numerous details of the case, he stuck with his opinions about seeing Howell in the early morning hours of May 15, 2000.
“So, you lied when you said it was dark,” that morning, Waide asked Rice.
“Yes,” Rice replied about his vision at 5:15 a.m. “No, I saw clearly. It wasn’t dark.”
Other witnesses offered testimony of information Howell’s counsel hoped would convince Judge Richardson enough questions exist to warrant at least a new trial.
But on a key point about when Howell was actually charged with capital murder and warranted legal counsel, multiple witnesses explained why he was not charged until after the 10 a.m. May 16 lineup, even a meticulous account by Justice Court Clerk Theresa Edwards about how cases are numbered and how long it likely took to get to Howell’s initial charge that day.
All the time, Howell – a tall, bespectacled 33 -year-old – has sat quietly at the defense table, a crowd of family friends and relatives in the courtroom to support his appeal.