Mills orders death sentence vacated in Carrol County case

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Lawrence Branch’s death sentence will be vacated, a federal judge ordered today.

Branch was convicted of capital murder in the 2001 beating death of Dorothy Jorden at her home in Coila in Carroll County on Jan. 21, 2001.

His co-defendant, Deondray Johnson, was tried separately and convicted of capital murder but was sentenced to life without possibility of parole after his jury failed to agree on punishment.

Branch’s appeal to the U.S. District Court of Northern Mississippi claimed he was mentally retarded, and thus, exempt from the death penalty.

Chief Judge Michael P. Mills’ order, which becomes final in 60 days, says Branch’s appeal met each test of the clinical criteria “for a diagnosis of mental retardation by a preponderance of the evidence,” contrary to earlier denials by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

However, Mills denied his claim of ineffective counsel, that his arrest was illegal and that his all-white jury violated his rights to a fair trial.

After the case becomes final, Mills wrote, the state will impose a lesser sentence. He also dismissed Branch’s other appeals claims.