JACKSON — If Robert Simon Jr. receives a new mental evaluation with his claim that falling on his head made him mentally incompetent, Mississippi can expect a flood of similar claims from other death row inmates, says Attorney General Jim Hood.
“We’re going to see a rash of knot heads at Parchman,” Hood told The Associated Press on Thursday. “We’ll have to put cameras into every cell on death row because they are all going to claim they fell and bumped their head.”
Simon’s injury, which records show occurred at Parchman in January, was the basis for his attorneys’ claim that he is incompetent to be executed.
Simon was sentenced to death for the 1990 slaying of members of a Quitman County family. The execution was blocked by a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans hours before its scheduled time Tuesday.
“The court recognized that the medical records show an accident that lead to neuropsychological effects and it is so stated in the medical records. What the court is saying is there should be a hearing and evaluations based on this evidence,” said Tom Freeland of Oxford, who is representing Simon.
Freeland declined to respond to Hood’s allegations.
On Wednesday, the federal panel gave both sides until June 6 file briefs on the issues raised by Simon.
The attorney general’s office contends the issue of Simon’s mental health was exhausted in appeals rejected by both Mississippi and federal courts.
The 5th Circuit panel said it was concerned the deficiencies in Simon’s petition were created by the state’s refusal to allow an evaluation of Simon by a doctor hired by the defense.
“In such a situation, a holding that Simon’s evidence does not amount to a ‘substantial threshold showing’ might be tantamount to holding that a state can always prevent a petitioner from making such a showing by simply forbidding his experts from examining him,” the panel said.
Hood said Thursday that two doctors at Parchman interviewed Simon and that was contained in the state’s argument that the execution should not be stopped.
Hood said it appeared the 5th Circuit was given more information that it could digest in a short time, and that is partly the fault of defense attorneys who wanted until the last minute to file Simon’s petition.
“We have seen this stuff time and time again, and the judges — they hesitate because of a little mud in the water,” Hood said.
Hood said he expects the 5th Circuit will send case back to federal court for a hearing or with an order for a mental evaluation of Simon. He said that would mean extra costs to the state to hire its own experts plus pay for Simon’s.
“It’s going to mean a lot of expense to the state to make sure all our consciences are clear,” Hood said.
The panel also said the Mississippi court’s decision that the Simon’s medical records showed nothing neurologically abnormal was contradicted by the prison medical records.
“On the basis of the record before us, we find that Simon has met his burden of showing a substantial likelihood that he will be able to prove that the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision was objectively unreasonable. The evidence submitted by Simon could rationally support an inference by a reasonable trier of fact that Simon lacks a factual awareness of his impending execution, any memory of the crime he committed, a factual awareness of the State’s reasons for executing him, and a rational understanding of the connection between his crime and his impending execution,” the panel said.
Simon, now 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.
Simon and Anthony Carr, now 45, were both convicted of the killings. Carr is also on death row.
Jack Elliot Jr./The Associated Press