UPDATE: Appeal filed in Miss. death row inmates' lawsuit

JACKSON — An attorney representing 16 Mississippi death row inmates has filed an appeal Tuesday with the Mississippi Supreme Court after a lawsuit claiming the state provided inadequate legal counsel was dismissed in Hinds County Chancery Court.

Jackson attorney Jim Craig asked justices to halt the executions of his clients pending the appeal that was tossed Friday by Chancery Judge William Singletary. One of the inmates, Gerald James Holland, is to be put to death Thursday at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

Craig also requests that the inmates be allowed to file new arguments with “competent and functioning counsel.”

The Supreme Court issued an order requiring the state to file a response to the motion by 9 a.m. Wednesday.

The lawsuit claimed the Mississippi Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel is inadequately staffed and its attorneys are not versed in handling death row appeals.

The state office was created in 2000 to lift the burden off counties to pay for continuing death row appeals.

In a post-conviction petitions, an inmate argues about new evidence — or a possible constitutional issue — that could persuade a court to order a new trial.

Singletary dismissed the lawsuit on grounds that it should not have been filed in his court.

Craig said he filed the appeal “to say the state of Mississippi set up this office to give prisoners this representation, but it became a facade because once the office got into place, it had to file pleadings so quickly and was given no assistance.”

Craig said the state office couldn’t hire contract workers or ask for additional time on a case so “they ended up filing skeletons of what the real appeal of this sort should be.”

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Jim Hood didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

The motion is among several filed by defense attorneys to halt Holland’s execution.

“It would really be a travesty to execute Mr. Holland and find out that behind these hastily thrown together appeals that he had real issues that should have been presented to the jury,” Craig said.

Paul Everette Woodward, who is to be executed on Wednesday, was not a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Shelia Byrd/The Associated Press