Mississippi court sets execution dates for 2 of 3 men

By Jeff Amy/The Associated Press

JACKSON — Mississippi will not execute three men on three consecutive days in June, after the state Supreme Court set execution dates a week apart for two men and declined to set a date for a third.

Attorney General Jim Hood’s office had asked earlier this month that justices set execution dates for Henry Curtis Jackson Jr., Gary Carl Simmons Jr. and Jan Michael Brawner on June 12, 13 and 14, respectively.

On Wednesday, the court set June 5 as the execution date for Jackson on an 8-0 vote. It also set a June 12 execution for Brawner on a 5-3 vote. Meanwhile, it ordered Hood’s office to reply to Simmons’ claims that his original lawyers were ineffective at trial and that he never later had lawyers good enough to point out shortcomings.

Current lawyers argue Simmons should get a chance to be resentenced because they have evidence that Simmons may have post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental illnesses and had suffered from abuse as a child. They’re also seeking a court order allowing access to an expert for a mental evaluation.

Simmons, 49, was convicted for shooting and dismembering Jeffrey Wolfe. Wolfe was killed in August 1996 after he went to Simmons’ Pascagoula home to collect on a drug debt, according to court records. Timothy Milano, Simmons’ co-defendant and the person authorities said shot Wolfe, was convicted on the same charges and sentenced to life in prison.

Simmons worked as a grocery store butcher when he and Milano were charged with killing Wolfe. Police said the pair kidnapped Wolfe and his female friend and later assaulted the woman and locked her in a box. Police found parts of Wolfe’s dismembered body at Simmons’ house, in the yard and in a nearby bayou.

Simmons and Brawner both said their legal causes suffered in part because of ineffective assistance by Bob Ryan, formerly head of the state office meant to handle post-conviction appeals for people sentenced to death. Five justices, though, said Brawner’s claims have already been litigated and that courts had decided against them.

Justice David Chandler, joined by Justices James Kitchens and Leslie King, dissented, citing claims that Brawner’s case, in its early stages, was handled by a law clerk who hadn’t yet passed the bar exam.

“Because the issue of whether a non-lawyers purported representation of Brawner during critical stages of the proceedings never has been addressed by this court and the issue is now clearly before the court, we would allow Brawner to file a successive motion for post-conviction relief on this issue,” Chandler wrote.

Brawner, 34, was convicted of the 2001 killings of his 3-year-old daughter, ex-wife and former father-in-law and mother-in-law in Sarah, a Tate County community west of Senatobia.

Brawner went to his former in-laws’ home after learning that his former wife planned to stop him from seeing their child, trial testimony showed. He also had no money and contemplated robbing his former in-laws, according to testimony. Brawner admitted to the killings at trial and told a prosecutor he deserved death.

Jackson, 47, was convicted of stabbing two nieces and two nephews, ranging in age from 2 years to 5 years, at his mother’s home near Greenwood in 1990. He also was convicted of stabbing his adult sister and another niece, who both survived. Prosecutors said Jackson, 26 at the time, planned to steal his mother’s safe and kill the victims.