Miss. inmate asks US high court to block execution

By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Pres

JACKSON — A Mississippi prison inmate has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block his execution Tuesday based on the argument that his lawyers didn’t do a good job and prosecutors discriminated against blacks during jury selection.

Larry Matthew Puckett is scheduled to receive a lethal injection for the 1995 sexual assault and beating death of Rhonda Hatten Griffis of Forrest County. His lawyers filed the request Wednesday to block the execution.

Puckett’s lawyers say prosecutors kept blacks off the jury and his former attorneys never properly challenged his conviction and sentence on those grounds during his appeals.

Puckett is white. The jury was all white.

Puckett’s lawyers argued that there is “powerful, unrebutted proof that the prosecution engaged in race discrimination in selecting the jury.”

The argument centers on the landmark 1986 ruling Batson v. Kentucky, in which the Supreme Court found it unconstitutional to dismiss a juror because of his or her race.

The sexual assault and killing of the 28-year-old mother of two young boys happened just months after Puckett graduated high school and just before he was to leave for the Navy. He’s 35 now.

Prosecutors say that on Oct. 14, 1995, Griffis’ mother heard a scream coming from her daughter’s house next door and found Puckett inside the mobile home holding a club. Puckett allegedly went after the mother with the club, but Griffis’ husband had just arrived and Puckett fled after a struggle, court records said.

The husband found the woman’s bloody and battered body in the living room when he went to get a gun. She was wearing a shirt but the only clothing on her lower body was around her left foot, court records said. Her injuries included trauma and gashes on her head, back, chest and neck.

The husband allegedly recognized Puckett because Puckett had worked for him in the past.

Puckett was captured two days later. Investigators said he confessed to being at the Griffis’ home to burglarize it, but he claimed Griffis’ husband killed her.

Puckett was sentenced to death on Aug. 5, 1996.

Another Mississippi death row inmate, William Mitchell, 61, is scheduled for execution just two days after Puckett.

Mitchell had been out of prison on parole for less than a year for a 1975 murder when he was charged with raping and killing Patty Milliken, 38.

Milliken disappeared on Nov. 21, 1995, after walking out of the Majik Mart convenience store where she worked in Biloxi to have a cigarette with Mitchell. Her body was found the next day under a bridge. She had been “strangled, beaten, sexually assaulted, and repeatedly run over by a vehicle,” according to court records.