By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Pres
JACKSON – A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked the execution of a Mississippi inmate who killed two men during a robbery spree in 1995. The man’s attorneys asked for the order, not arguing guilt or innocence, but that corrections officials prevented Edwin Hart Turner from getting medical tests that could prove he is mentally ill.
Turner, 38, had been scheduled to die by injection Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves in Jackson blocked the execution until Feb. 20. In the meantime, Turner’s lawyers can seek a longer stay.
James Craig with the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center argued during a hearing Friday that MDOC policy prohibited Turner from getting tests that could prove he’s mentally ill, a diagnosis they hope will help sway the U.S. Supreme Court to block the executions of Turner and others with mental illnesses. They also would like the tests to send to Gov. Phil Bryant as part of a clemency petition.
Craig said the MDOC policy, which dates to the 1990s, violates prisoners’ rights to have access to courts and other materials that can help them develop evidence.
Craig asked the court to block the execution while the judge weighs evidence about the corrections policy. The policy requires court orders for medical experts or others to visit and test inmates.
“Mr. Turner has never had a fair opportunity to present the evidence that he is the sort of seriously mentally ill prisoner who should not be executed in a humane criminal justice system,” Craig said Monday in a statement. “We are simply asking that we be allowed to have access to our client so that we can have him psychiatrically assessed so that the best information is available before any decision is made to proceed with the execution.”
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has said Turner’s lawyers are bringing up old arguments that have been rejected by the courts before.
“We argue that his mental health claims have been fully addressed, and that this present action is nothing more than an attempt to re-litigate a claim that has been properly adjudicated at every turn,” Hood said in a statement.
Petition to court
Craig filed a separate petition last week with the U.S. Supreme Court that seeks to have the execution blocked.
That petition said Mississippi is one of 10 states that permit someone who suffered from serious mental illness at the time of the offense to be executed. Turner’s lawyers want the Court to prohibit the execution of mentally ill people the way it did inmates considered mentally retarded.
There’s little dispute that Turner killed the men then went home and had a meal of shrimp and cinnamon rolls before going to sleep.
Turner’s lawyers argue in the U.S. Supreme Court that he inherited a mental illness. His father is thought to have committed suicide by shooting into a shed filled with dynamite, and his grandmother and great-grandmother both spent time in the state mental hospital.
Turner’s face is severely disfigured from a self-inflicted gunshot wound from a suicide attempt when he was 18 in which he put a rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger.