By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW ALBANY – High drama and legal fireworks came fast and furious this week as death row inmate Marlon Howell seeks a new trial in the 2000 death of newspaper carrier David Pernell.
As the three-day hearing closed about 4 p.m. Friday, specially appointed Judge Samac Richardson of Rankin County took all the issues and testimony under advisement, saying he’ll try to make a decision in a few weeks.
Howell’s defenders claim numerous constitutional rights were violated at his arrest and through his Union County trial, especially that an identification lineup was tainted and that his ineffective counsel failed to recognize or know about several key problems. They also claimed prosecutors knew about key mistakes but failed to rectify them across the past 13 years. His co-defendants, Curtis Lipsey and Adam Ray, are serving lengthy prison sentences on lesser charges after they said Howell was the shooter. Years later, they both recanted.
The chief defender, North Carolina attorney Billy Richardson, worked hard to contain his emotions as he made closing remarks.
“There is no physical evidence linking my client to this crime,” said Richardson, who took the appeal at his own expense years ago. “If there were ever time for close scrutiny, it’s now – no DNA, no gunpowder residue.”
The evidentiary hearing was ordered by the Mississippi Supreme Court to address issues including the line-up, witness credibility and trial counsel.
During the past two days, Attorney General Jim Hood – the case’s district attorney in 2001 – fueled the drama with personal confrontations.
Thursday, he reportedly threatened Richardson with criminal charges and urged him to “lawyer up” for allegedly bribing a witness to lie and then late Friday crossed verbal swords with Richardson’s co-counsel, Jim Waide of Tupelo, who told the court that Hood threatened a witness with perjury.
Throughout, 33-year-old Howell sat quietly at the defense table. By mid-day Friday, more than three dozen spectators, including Howell family members, were in the courthouse courtroom.
Assistant Attorney General Jason Davis, in closing, told the court that Howell’s right to counsel at the lineup was not in effect because he had not yet been arrested and charged with capital murder.
Hood agreed and said line-up witness Charles Rice’s testimony was consistent through the years – that he saw Howell shoot Pernell. He also discounted the recanted testimony, saying there’s good reason the Mississippi Supreme Court looks “unfavorably” on recantations.
Much of Friday’s testimony came from Brandon Shaw, who claimed Ray told him Howell shot Pernell.
He also said Richardson offered him $20 “for his time” to give a statement about what happened May 15, 2000 when Pernell died. Then later, he said he didn’t consider it a bribe.
Defense investigator Leonard Sanders told the court he never heard any talk of money during their many conversations with former trial witnesses.
Richardson’s son, attorney Matt Richardson, closed remarks before the court and insisted Howell was due legal counsel at the jail lineup because although he was under arrest for a parole violation, he was being held for suspicion of capital murder.
“In effect, he was under arrest for murder,” Matt Richardson said.
The lineup “tainted the trial and the appeal,” he added.
Hood asked the court to deny Howell’s appeal.