PARCHMAN — A federal appeals court panel on Tuesday stopped the execution of a Mississippi inmate hours before he was to be given a lethal injection for the slaying of a Delta family two decades ago.
The order was signed by all three judges on the panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The panel gave no immediate reason for its decision, and it was not clear how long the execution of Robert Simon Jr., will be on hold. State Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said it would not happen Tuesday.
Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman had been put on lockdown to prepare for the pending execution.
Simon, 47, was convicted and sentenced to death in the 1990 slayings of Carl Parker; Parker’s wife, Bobbie Jo; and their 12-year-old son, Gregory. The killings occurred a few hours after the family had returned to their rural Quitman County home from church services.
Simon also was sentenced to life in prison for the killing of 9-year-old Charlotte Parker, daughter of the slain couple.
Epps said Simon was being moved from a holding cell near the execution chamber to his previous bunk on death row.
“We have placed everything on halt,” Epps told reporters at the prison.
Epps said in a conversation with Simon earlier Tuesday that the inmate professed to have no memory of the crime. When told of the stay, Epps said Simon gave out a holler and laid back on his bed.
Simon’s lawyers had argued to the 5th Circuit that Simon had hit his head in a fall at the prison this past January, rendering him unable to understand what was going on. The lawyers said the Mississippi courts rejected Simon’s mental disability claim without affording Simon a thorough medical review.
The state attorney general’s office contended the issue of Simon’s mental health had been exhausted in appeals rejected by both Mississippi and federal courts.
Some relatives of the Parkers were scheduled to witness the execution but had not traveled to the prison before the execution was halted, corrections officials said. The slayings occurred about 20 miles north of Parchman.
Simon and Anthony Carr, now 45, were both convicted of the killings. Carr is also on death row.
The whole process of appeals for Simon and Carr took a financial toll on Quitman County, which is mostly rural and property-poor.
In 1999, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that counties must pay for attorneys in post-conviction appeals.
Quitman County spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on appeals by Simon and Carr.
Chancery Clerk T.H. “Butch” Scipper said Monday that the county spent general budget money, reserve funds and issued $150,000 in bonds to pay for the two men’s appeals.
Jack Elliot Jr./The Associated Press