[Deathpenalty] [SPAM] death penalty news----MISS., LA., GA., OHIO
rhalperi at smu.edu
Tue Mar 20 10:48:43 CDT 2012
Supporters of 2 Mississippi death row inmates seek to block executions this
Thousands have signed an online petition in support of death row inmate Larry
Matthew Puckett and some gathered Monday at the state Capitol to protest 2
executions scheduled in Mississippi this week.
Puckett, 35, is scheduled for execution by lethal injection on Tuesday at 6
p.m. William Mitchell, 61, is scheduled for execution Thursday.
Puckett, who earned the rank of Eagle Scout, was convicted of sexually
assaulting and killing his former boss' wife when he was 18. Rhonda Hatten
Griffis, a 28-year-old mother of two, was found dead in her Forrest County home
in October 1995.
While Puckett's supporters claim that the woman's husband killed her in a
jealous rage, the victim's mother says that she found Puckett in the home
holding an axe handle.
"I caught him in her house with the club in his hand," Nancy Hatten told The
Associated Press on Friday. "Her husband wasn't anywhere on the premises at the
time. He drove up later."
Griffis' husband found his wife's battered body in the living room, according
to court records.
Puckett was captured two days later. He confessed to being at the Griffis' home
to burglarize it, but he claimed Griffis' husband killed her, according to
court records. Puckett was sentenced to death on Aug. 5, 1996. He has spent
some of his time on death row writing essays, including musing about what it
will be like to be executed.
Puckett's supporters hope to persuade Gov. Phil Bryant to stop the execution.
Spokesman Mick Bullock said the governor and his staff was reviewing the facts
in both cases and had no further comment at this time.
Mitchell's attorney, Glenn S. Swartzfager, said he hopes to file a petition
Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to block the execution.
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
At the state Capitol, many of the roughly 50 people gathered there wore black
t-shirts that said 'SAVE MATT' in white letters. Many said they had changed
their opinions about the death penalty after hearing about Puckett's case. As
of Monday, there were nearly 4,500 electronic signatures on a petition called
"Save Matt Puckett-Stop an Innocent Man From Being Executed."
Mary Puckett said that her son's treatment was unfair from the very beginning.
"Like a lot of people, I thought if someone was convicted of a crime, they were
probably guilty," Puckett said. "But if this can happen to us, it can happen to
Jim Craig of the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, a nonprofit law office,
told those gathered at the Capitol that he sees profound problems with the way
Puckett and William Mitchell were prosecuted and how their appeals were
handled. He described their appeals as "fake."
"We are here to, among other things, expose a fraud at the center of the
Mississippi system of justice," Craig said. "Both Mr. Puckett and Mr. Mitchell
went through our state post-conviction proceedings as if they were just
representing themselves, and in fact they probably would have done better if
they had represented themselves. They probably would have done better if
William Shatner had represented them in his role on Boston Legal, because at
least William Shatner could act like he was a lawyer."
Craig said Mitchell has a long history of mental illness and that was never
considered in the normal course of appeals.
Puckett's lawyers petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court last week to block the
execution. They say prosecutors kept blacks off the jury and Puckett's former
lawyers never properly challenged his conviction on those grounds. Puckett is
white and so was his jury. Black jurors are historically less likely to choose
the death penalty.
Janet Nelson, who has known the Puckett family for years, said she couldn't
believe one of Mary's children would be capable of such a crime.
"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," Puckett said. "That (crime) is
nothing like what anyone else in their family would do. It's not how they were
(source: Associated Press)
Last-ditch bid to save inmates----Planned executions protested
An anti-death penalty group says the testimony of a controversial forensic
dentist helped put Larry Matthew Puckett where he is today: facing death by
lethal injection in a matter of hours.
But the state attorney general's office and others say Puckett will pay with
his life for the life he took more than 15 years ago. Puckett, 35, is scheduled
to be put to death today a little after 6 p.m. for the 1995 sexual assault and
murder of Rhonda Hatten Griffis, 28, a mother of two from Forrest County.
In a rally Monday at the state Capitol , Mississippians Educating for Smart
Justice, which opposes the death penalty, asked Gov. Phil Bryant to commute
Puckett's death sentence to life in prison without parole.
The group said it is also making a similar request for William Mitchell, who is
scheduled to be put to death Thursday for the 1995 rape and murder of store
clerk Patty Milliken, 35, who was killed in Harrison County.
The anti-death penalty group said it has collected more than 5,000 signatures
on a petition asking Bryant to commute the sentences.
"The governor and his staff are currently reviewing the facts in these cases
and have no further comment at this time," Bryant's spokesman, Mick Bullock,
said Monday after the anti-death penalty rally.
About 50 people gathered in the 1st floor rotunda of the state Capitol for the
"We are here to oppose as a whole the death penalty," said Benjamin Russell of
But Jackson resident Ann Pace, whose 22-year-old daughter, Charlotte Murray
Pace, was killed by serial killer Derrick Todd Lee in 2002 in Louisiana, said
the death penalty isn't something that is morally wrong.
Pace said if she would have known the rally was taking place she would have
been there with her signs in favor of the death penalty when it is judicially
"It's not a good thing, it's a tough thing you do to protect innocent people,"
Pace said of carrying out executions.
Jim Craig, an attorney for death row inmates, said at the rally that Puckett
and Mitchell didn't get fair trials. Craig also criticized one of the state's
expert witness at Puckett's trial, forensic dentist Michael West. Puckett's
attorneys have filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes of blocking
West's testimony in trials came under scrutiny after his testimony helped send
two men to prison (one to death row) who were later found to be innocent and
Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, both of Noxubee County, were cleared after
each spent more than 15 years behind bars for rape-murders they did not commit.
In each case, West testified he found those men's bite marks on the victims.
In Puckett's case, West and forensic pathlogist Dr. Steven Hayne testified
during Puckett's trial that the wound patterns on the victim's back were
consistent with that of a club.
Prosecutors said Puckett, then-19, used a club instrument to beat Griffis to
Griffis was sexually assaulted and killed in her home on Oct. 14, 1995. On that
day, Griffis' mother, Nancy Hatten, heard a "scream and a thud" coming from her
daughter's house next door and found Puckett inside holding a club, court
records said. Puckett went after the mother with the club, but Griffis' husband
had just arrived and Puckett fled after a brief struggle, court records said.
Griffis' husband went to get a gun and found his wife's body.
Puckett was caught 2 days later. He told investigators he had gone to the
Griffis' house to burglarize it, and he claimed Griffis' husband killed the
woman in a jealous rage.
"We believe Matt didn't do it," his mother, Mary Puckett, said.
But Nancy Hatten has said Puckett killed her daughter. She said he was caught
in the house, and Griffis' husband wasn't on the premises at the time.
Craig also said Puckett, who is white, was put on trial for his life in front
of a jury hand-selected by the state by striking African- American jurors, who
tend to oppose the death penalty. But he said prosecutors kept a juror who
could barely read English.
Craig said Mitchell has a long history of mental illness, including being
diagnosed with schizophrenia and going into psychotic states.
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 Milliken.
Milliken's body was found under a bridge. She had been strangled, beaten,
sexually assaulted, and repeatedly run over by a vehicle, according to court
Mississippians Educating for Smart Justice said, if Puckett isn't given a
reprieve, its members and others will rally at 5:30 p.m. today at Smith Park in
downtown Jackson and there will be a rally at the State Penitentiary at
Parchman where the execution is scheduled. A similar rally will be conducted in
both locations Thursday for Mitchell if his execution goes forward, Russell
said. (source: Clarion-Ledger)
Mississippi set to execute man for killing wife of ex-boss
A Mississippi man convicted of sexually battering and murdering his former
employer's wife was scheduled to be executed on Tuesday, the 1st of 2 lethal
injections planned in the state this week.
Larry Matthew "Matt" Puckett, 35, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced
to death in 1996. If carried out as scheduled at 6 p.m. CDT at the Mississippi
State Penitentiary in Parchman, his execution would be the 2nd in Mississippi
this year and the 10th in all of the United States in 2012.
Puckett was found guilty of fatally beating 28-year-old Rhonda Hatten Griffis,
a mother of 2, in October 1995 with a wooden club at her home in Petal, a small
community of about 10,000 in south Mississippi.
Griffis' mother entered her daughter's mobile home after hearing a "scream and
a thud" and found Puckett holding a bloody club, according to court records.
Puckett said he had come to the home because he hit a deer on the side of the
road and needed help from the victim's husband, David Griffis, for whom he had
previously worked before getting fired.
After struggling with David Griffis, who managed to take the bloody club,
Puckett left the home and ran into nearby woods, records show.
Griffis found his wife lying in a puddle of blood on the bedroom floor. Court
reports show she died from injuries including deep cuts on her head, back and
chest and was bleeding from her genitals.
Authorities later found Puckett at his mother's home.
During the murder trial, Puckett claimed he had planned to burglarize the
Griffis' home and entered it even when he saw Rhonda Griffis' car parked
Claiming to have had an affair with her several months before the incident,
Puckett testified he and Rhonda Griffis were kissing until they heard her
mother approach the mobile home.
Puckett said it was David Griffis who murdered his wife with the club after
accusing her of having an affair.
Mississippi officials also have an execution planned for Thursday. Inmate
William J. Mitchell was scheduled to be put to death for the 1998 murder and
sexual assault of a convenience store clerk.
Judge asked to toss ex-N.O. cop's death sentence
Defense attorneys are asking a federal judge to order a new trial, throw out
the conviction or overturn the death sentence for a former New Orleans police
officer found guilty of arranging a woman's murder in 1994.
The request filed Monday by a Capital Appeals Project attorney argues Len Davis
has a serious mental impairment that rendered him incompetent to stand trial on
charges he directed a drug dealer to shoot and kill Kim Groves after she filed
a brutality complaint against him.
Defense lawyers also argue that the Justice Department had a conflict of
interest in prosecuting Davis.
U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan has allowed Davis to represent himself
during his post-conviction proceedings, but his standby counsel says Davis will
be executed if they don't act on his behalf.
(source: Associated Press)
Georgia Supreme Court rules out evidence in Glynn County death penalty murder
case----Court: Officers didn't give the proper Miranda warning in the murder
A Glynn County man facing a death-penalty trial will not have 4 statements he
made used against him, nor can prosecutors use his bloody clothes as evidence,
the Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The state’s high court unanimously ruled that four statements made by John
David Clay to investigators could not be given to the jury during his upcoming
trail for the 2007 murder of Janice Swain in the Brunswick Guest Cottages
The justices concluded that Clay was under arrest at the time he made his
statements, but officers had not given him a “Miranda warning” against self
incrimination or that it was read at “super speed” so that its contents sounded
“It is axiomatic that a rendering of the Miranda warnings must be intelligible
before a defendant can knowingly and intelligently waive the rights involved,”
wrote Justice Hugh Thompson in the 45-page opinion.
Clay was found unconscious in the middle of a street near the hotel shortly
after the murder. A detective entered the emergency room where he was being
treated for his alcohol and drug stupor and took the bloody clothing the
hospital had removed from Clay.
The court ruled the clothing could not be taken without a search warrant.
Prosecutors had argued they would have eventually gotten the warrant so it was
inevitable that the police would have collected the clothes.
The top court ordered the Glynn County Superior Court to hold a hearing on its
specific reasons for allowing Clay’s convictions for violent crimes more than
10 years ago to be admitted into evidence.
Clay’s criminal record in Glynn County dates to 2004 and includes 2 convictions
for family violence battery and single convictions for false imprisonment and
burglary, Georgia Department of Corrections records show.
At the time of his arrest, he was on parole for a family violence conviction.
(source: Florida Times-Union)
Georgia Supreme Court weighs in on Peach murder case
The Georgia Supreme Court sided against a woman facing the death penalty in a
Peach County murder case.
In the Peach County case, justices found that Lillian Walker of Montezuma
prematurely filed a motion seeking acquittal on the grounds that her right to a
speedy trial was violated.
Walker is accused of the stabbing deaths of her 85-year-old Aunt Lillian Graves
and her 65-year-old cousin, Agnes Stewart, both of Fort Valley, in June 2009.
In the attack on the women in their home on Fort Valley’s Daniel Drive, Walker
allegedly rifled through their purses to steal cash, checks, credit cards and
prescription drugs. Walker also was accused of stealing Graves’ Jeep Cherokee.
Graves, a retired nurse, had recently turned 85. Stewart, a retired Peach
County High School teacher, was a deacon at St. Peter AME Church in Fort Valley
and a former president of Fort Valley’s Habitat For Humanity chapter.
In the Houston County murder case, justices upheld the conviction of Bobbie
Charles Shank on malice murder and related charges in the June 27, 1996, attack
on a husband and wife in their Warner Robins home.
Shank was convicted of bludgeoning to death 26-year-old Mark Garner after
Garner refused to sell him some marijuana because Shank already owed Garner
$450. Shank attacked Garner with an instrument like a “machete or 2-headed ax,”
the ruling stated. Shank hacked Garner at least 7 times in the head before
Shank turned to Garner’s wife, Tracy Garner, who survived the brutal attack.
(source: The Macon Telegraph)
Supreme Court to hear case of Warren killer
Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins said he hopes Monday's decision by
the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal from local death row inmate Sean
Carter will ''put an end to years of endless appeals at taxpayers' expense.''
The U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear Carter's case along with another
death penalty case out of Arizona. Attorneys general in both states filed
objections last year to the federal court-ordered delays for Carter and the
Arizona inmate, who both claim serious mental health issues.
''I'm thankful for our Ohio Attorney General's Office getting this matter
heard,'' Watkins said. ''Sean Carter's guilt is beyond all doubt.''
Carter, 33, currently on death row in Chillicothe Correctional Institution, was
convicted on Sept. 14, 1997, of raping and murdering his adoptive grandmother.
The federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled last May 26 that
Carter's latest appeal should be sent back to the district court level and
action postponed until the convicted murderer's competency is restored.
In late 2007, Carter was transferred from death row to Oakwood Correctional
Facility because of a declining mental condition. Oakwood is a psychiatric
prison. He has since been transferred back to Chillicothe, where most death row
inmates are incarcerated.
Originally, former Federal Judge Peter Economus dismissed prosecutors' filing
to have Carter returned to death row. Economus ruled that the action - called a
habeas corpus filing - could be re-filed when competency was restored.
Ohio appealed that decision, which resulted in a split decision from the Sixth
Circuit and leading to the filing with the U.S. Supreme Court.
In making his ruling, Economus wrote, ''(Carter) has been disoriented and
unable to comprehend or respond to communications from others. His daily
functioning, while previously restricted, also has deteriorated with extremely
poor personal hygiene and lack of consistent sleep habits due to nightly,
persistent screaming and laughing.''
Watkins and assistant attorney generals argue that the appellate decision goes
against precedent, and appeals can remain ongoing while any inmate's competency
is restored by professionals. They say the delay tactic is holding up other
The prosecutors maintain that competency can be litigated at trial and before a
death row inmate is executed, but not during a habeas action.
Assistant attorney generals are prepared to argue that Carter's federal claim
can go forward whether he is competent or not since his input and understanding
of the proceeding isn't as crucial as it is at trial.
''This is another example of a brutal convicted killer tip-toeing through the
tulips of injustice,'' Watkins said.
Carter blurted out in front of a jury that he was guilty at the start of his
trial and who lunged at Judge W. Wyatt McKay in chambers during a sidebar
McKay had Carter undergo psychological testing for competency and sanity before
trial. Experts found him competent at that time, including experts hired by
Carter was serving time for auto theft in Geauga County Jail before the murder
of Veader Prince, 68, who had adopted Carter at age 9. She was found in her
Southington home, beaten stabbed and raped. He also stole money when he fled
from the house.
Carter, then 18, confessed to the crime shortly after being arrested by
Carter was the 7th of 10 Trumbull County death row inmates sentenced to be
executed since the death penalty was reinstated by Ohio. 3 of the 10 have since
been executed and a 4th death row inmate, Charles Lorraine, was scheduled to be
executed Jan. 18 until the U.S. Supreme Court refused to allow that execution
to go forward.
Lorraine's case is delayed by federal courts over concerns that the state
continues to deviate too often from its written rules for lethal injection.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that federal courts must
monitor every Ohio execution "because the State cannot be trusted to fulfill
its otherwise lawful duty to execute inmates sentenced to death."
The court upheld an earlier decision by U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost
that chided Ohio for not following his warnings to adhere strictly to his
policies. The ruling has delayed any execution since Lorraine.
Lorraine, 45, of Warren, has spent years unsuccessfully appealing his death
sentence. Lorraine stabbed Raymond Montgomery, 77, five times with a butcher's
knife and stabbed his bedridden wife, Doris Montgomery, 80, nine times before
burglarizing their Trumbull County home in May 1986 after befriending the
couple he did odd jobs for.
(source: Tribune Chronicle)
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