Inmates close to using up appeals

By Jimmie E. Gates/The Clarion-Ledger

JACKSON — A death row inmate convicted of kidnapping, raping and fatally shooting a 79-year-old woman is on the state’s short list for execution after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied his appeal.

Rodney Gray, 38, likely will follow Frederick Bell, also 38, to the execution chamber as the two men are closest to exhausting all appeals.

The state attorney general’s office said Tuesday that a date this year is expected to be set for Bell’s execution, but Gray likely won’t be put to death until early next year.

“At this point, it does appear that Gray will be after Bell,” said Jan Schaefer, attorney general’s office spokeswoman. “Bell could be before the end of the year unless there are some delays along the way. There is never any sure timetable with these cases.”

The 5th Circuit in New Orleans last week upheld Gray’s conviction in the death of Grace Blackwell of Louin.

Blackwell was abducted and forced to withdraw $1,200 from the bank. Her body was found Aug. 15, 1994, near the Newton County bridge, court records show.

Blackwell died from a shotgun blast to the face but had other injuries, indicating she was struck by or pushed out of a vehicle.

Forensic evidence showed the victim was taped and connected Gray to the crime, according to the court.

Bell’s attorney, Kenneth Coghlan of Oxford, said Tuesday that he overnighted Bell’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court last week in an effort to prevent the execution.

“I can’t venture to guess when they will rule on it,” Coghlan. He said the process is vexing on everyone involved.

Bell has been on death row since January 1993. He and Anthony Joe Doss, 37, were convicted of killing Bert Bell, no relation, on May 6, 1991, during an armed robbery of Sparks Stop-N-Shop in Grenada County. Doss also was sentenced to death.

Mississippi has executed three inmates this year, the most since 1961.

At one point, there was talk of having five executions this year.

However, Schaefer said it’s highly unlikely that Gray’s execution will be scheduled this year.

She said Gray has 15 days to petition for a rehearing with the 5th Circuit after last week’s decision.

The court will have to consider that petition, then Gray has 90 days to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This office would have at least 30 days to respond,” Schaeffer said. She estimated the high court would take at least six weeks to rule.

“Therefore, it appears much more likely that Gray’s execution will not be scheduled until next year,” she said.