By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Pres
JACKSON — Attorneys for Mississippi inmate Edwin Hart Turner are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block his execution next week, arguing he’s so mentally ill that he shot himself in the head as a teenager and was left permanently disfigured.
Turner, 38, is scheduled to be executed Wednesday at 6 p.m. There’s a separate petition before a federal court in Jackson, Miss., where a hearing was scheduled later Friday.
The petition with the Supreme Court was filed Thursday. It says “Turner suffers from an inherited and chronic mental illness” that impaired his ability to understand right and wrong and the consequences of his actions.
Court records say Turner killed two Carroll County men in 1995 while robbing gas stations with his friend, Paul Murrell Stewart. Turner allegedly shot the men at close range with a 6mm rifle. The robberies were said to have netted about $400.
Stewart testified against Turner and was sentenced to life.
James Craig, a lawyer with the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, argues in the petition to the Supreme Court that Turner inherited a mental illness like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia from his father. Hart has attempted suicide several times, including putting a rifle in his mouth and shooting himself in the head when he was 18 years old. He was left permanently disfigured.
“Hart was infamous in his small Mississippi town because he wore a towel wrapped around his face at all times to hide the disfigurement. Not only was he wearing a towel at the time of the killings, he was wearing a jacket that said ‘Turner’ on it,” Craig said in the filing. “At trial numerous witnesses testified that they knew of Hart and his towel before the incident, and each easily identified Hart — who was sitting at the defense table shrouded in his signature towel.”
Turner had spent three months in a mental institution and was released six weeks before the killings, the filing said. The document also said Turner’s grandmother and great-grandmother on his father’s side were both schizophrenic and spent years in and out of the state mental hospital.
Turner’s father was killed in 1985 when he shot a gun into a shed full of dynamite, causing an explosion, in what relatives described as a “successful, albeit passive, suicide attempt,” according to the document.
In arguing that Turner was irrational, Craig said there was no need for him to rob the stores because he was financially secure due to his father’s death.
“Mississippi is but one of 10 states who permit the execution of one who, like Turner, suffers from a serious mental illness at the time of his conduct at the time of the offense,” according to the legal filing.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that executing a mentally ill person amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, which is forbidden under the Constitution.
The Mississippi attorney general’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment but has said in the past that courts have previously rejected Turner’s arguments about mental illness.
Court records said Turner and Stewart were drinking beer and smoking marijuana on the night of Dec. 12, 1995, when they decided to rob a store. They picked Mims Turkey Village Truck Stop on U.S. Highway 82 in Carroll County, where 37-year-old Eddie Brooks was working a late shift.
Authorities said Turner shot Brooks in the chest and became enraged when he couldn’t get the cash register open. Turner “placed the barrel of his gun inches from Eddie Brooks’ head and pulled the trigger,” according to court records.
The two men drove about four miles down the road to Mims One Stop, where Everett Curry, a 38-year-old prison guard, was pumping gas. Stewart went inside to rob the store, while Turner forced Curry to the ground at gunpoint.
“As Curry was pleading for his life, Turner shot him in the head … then ran into the store and ordered everyone to get down, and pointed his gun at a man inside … Stewart urged Turner not to kill anyone else since they already had the money that they came for,” the court records said.
Turner’s trial was held in Forrest County, where he was convicted of two counts of capital murder and sentenced to death on each count.
The arguments being made in U.S. District Court also include claims about Turner’s mental illness, but those are based on alleged restrictions the Mississippi Department of Corrections places on prisoners being evaluated by their own medical and mental health experts.