Mississippi execution on after court lifts stay

By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Pres

JACKSON — A federal appeals court panel vacated an order blocking an execution in Mississippi and corrections officials said they were preparing for the lethal injection of death row inmate Edwin Hart Turner at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves in Jackson issued an order on Monday that had blocked the execution until Feb. 20. But Attorney General Jim Hood filed an appeal with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The three-judge panel ruled 2-1 in Hood’s favor Wednesday morning and lifted the stay.

Turner’s lawyer, James Craig with the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, had persuaded Reeves to temporarily block the execution after arguing that a Mississippi Department of Corrections policy prevented Turner from getting tests that could prove he was mentally ill when he killed two men during robberies in 1995.

A separate petition was filed last week with the U.S. Supreme Court. That appeal was still pending Wednesday.

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 two men while robbing gas stations, then went home and had a meal of shrimp and cinnamon rolls before going to sleep.

Turner’s lawyers argued in the petition to the U.S. Supreme Court that he inherited a serious mental illness. They argued that his father is thought to have committed suicide by shooting a gun into a shed filled with dynamite and his grandmother and great-grandmother both spent time in the state mental hospital.

Turner is severely disfigured from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His attorneys say he attempted suicide when he was 18 years old by putting a rifle in his mouth and pulling the trigger.

Craig has said Turner spent three months in the State Hospital at Whitfield being treated for mental problems after slitting his wrists in another suicide attempt in 1995 — prior to the killings later that year.

Craig said Turner was diagnosed with depression that year and given the antidepressant medication Prozac. Craig believes Turner was misdiagnosed and that Prozac compounded his problems.

Turner was convicted of killing the two men while robbing gas stations with a friend, Paul Murrell Stewart, in a spree that netted about $400. Stewart, 17 at the time, testified against Turner and was sentenced to life in prison.

According to court records, Stewart said he and Turner were drinking beer and smoking marijuana when they decided to rob a store Dec. 13, 1995. They picked Mims Turkey Village Truck Stop on Mississippi’s U.S. Highway 82, where 37-year-old Eddie Brooks was working.

They walked inside armed with rifles.

Turner shot Brooks in the chest, according to Stewart. He said the two went behind the counter but couldn’t open the cash register, not even when Turner shot at it. An enraged Turner then “placed the barrel of his gun inches from Eddie Brooks’ head and pulled the trigger,” the court records said.

The two left empty-handed and drove nearby to Mims One Stop, where 38-year-old prison guard Everett Curry 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,” the records said.

Turner and Stewart went back to Turner’s house, where they ate dinner and fell asleep. When they awoke, deputies were knocking at the door.