Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mississippi: 1st of 2 executions - Woodward's execution today

At 6 p.m. today, death row inmate Paul Everette Woodward is scheduled to be escorted to the execution room at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, where he will be injected with a lethal cocktail of sodium pentothal, normal saline, pavulon and potassium chloride.

Woodward of Monticello would become the 7th death row inmate in Mississippi to be killed by lethal injection and the 1st since Dale L. Bishop in 2008. There are currently 61 inmates on death row in Mississippi.

Around that time, the bells of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Hattiesburg will ring the death toll, part of a prayer vigil held by members of the church's social justice ministry. The church held one for Bishop that numbered 30 people in attendance.

The point is to eliminate the death penalty in the United States, organizer B.J. Sanford said.

"Life is sacred. There are no parentheses. Life is sacred from the womb to the tomb," she said.

Woodward, 62, was sentenced to death for the 1986 rape and shooting death of 24-year-old Rhonda Crane of Escatawpa. Crane was driving to join her parents on a camping trip in Wiggins when Woodward, driving a white log truck, forced her off the road.

He then raped her at gunpoint and shot her in the back of the head, prosecutors said. Crane's father, Robert Holloman, and a friend found her body the next day in a wooded area.

Crane was a volunteer worker at the youth shelter for the Jackson County Youth Court at the time. That shelter has since been named the Rhonda Crane Memorial Youth Shelter.

"She was a great person; she was a wonderful volunteer; she was very much interested in the neglected and abused children of Jackson County," said Cynthia Wilson, administrator for the Jackson County Youth Court.

Holloman could not be reached for comment Tuesday. In an April interview, he said he wanted Woodward "put to death."

"They didn't give him the death penalty; he earned it," said Holloman.

Woodward made both written and videotaped confessions. He was convicted for capital murder and sentenced to death in 1987.

Woodward earned another sentencing hearing, however, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the use of the words "heinous," "atrocious" and "cruel" employed by the prosecutor in the case could be misconstrued by the jury without judge instructions.

At the time, Crane's mother Lynda Holloman, who died in 2005, expressed annoyance.

"It's something I've expected, because I know the state of Mississippi is never going to put him to death," she said.

Woodward was subsequently sentenced to death again. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld his death sentence in 1997.

Holloman was not alone in sharing frustration with the delay between sentence and punishment. For Sanford, it exposes one of the lies behind death penalty justification.

"How can it be a deterrent when all of these years have elapsed between conviction and execution?" asked Sanford.

Attorney General Jim Hood said there's a line that must be walked in giving inmates a fair hearing.

"You want to make sure due process is carried out," he said.

Due process includes a lengthy appeals process with 2 appeals in state courts; 2 cracks at the state Supreme Court; and at least 1 appeal in federal court. It's a routine that can take years, Hood said.

Hood said that the process can be speeded up by eliminating "frivolous" motions by lawyers of death row inmates that clog up the courts. Woodward's execution is the 1st of 2 executions scheduled on consecutive nights at the penitentiary.

Gerald James Holland, 72, the oldest death row inmate in Mississippi, will be put to death Thursday for the 1987 rape and murder of 15-year-old Krystal King.

Lawyers for both men filed last-minute appeals with the Mississippi Supreme Court to halt their executions, which were rejected Tuesday. "You get to the point where you have motions coming from everywhere, and that's what you have right now," Hood said.

There is the possibility of a 3rd execution taking place this fall if death row inmate Joseph Daniel Burns' appeal is denied before the U.S. Supreme Court, Hood said. It would be the first time that three executions have taken place in Mississippi since 1961.

There is still the possibility of a last-minute stay of execution for Woodward and Holland coming from Gov. Haley Barbour, a contingency that Mississippi Department of Corrections officials say they are prepared for.

"There's every kind of telecommunication available for last-minute stays," said Suzanne Singletary, MDOC communications director. Singletary said the cost of executions by lethal injections is approximately $11,000. Around 80 penitentiary employees are involved.

Hood said that he doesn't foresee any last-minute reprieve for either Woodward or Holland, however.

"These guys confessed; and they are heinous cases. I don't anticipate them being stopped," he said.

Source: Hattiesburg American, May 19, 2010


Miss. executions today, tomorrow - Penitentiary locked down in preparation

Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said he will start today with a prayer.

"An execution affects different people in different ways," said Epps, who has been commissioner since 2002 and has overseen six executions to date. "I've seen people faint when we had the gas chamber ...

"I'm a Christian and a deacon. There's a certain preparation I have to do to get ready. I pray, is the first thing I do. I talk to my family and my pastor and I ask for faith to carry out my duties as commissioner."

Since 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman has been on lockdown, and the Delta facility will remain that way for more than 48 hours as prison staff prepares for back-to-back executions, something the state hasn't done since 1961.

The state is scheduled to execute 62-year-old Paul Everette Woodward at 6:15 p.m. today.

At the same time Thursday, the state is scheduled to execute Gerald James Holland, who, at 72, is the oldest inmate on Mississippi death row.

The state Supreme Court has rejected motions filed by Woodward and Holland seeking to halt their executions.

Both Holland and Woodward have petitioned Gov. Haley Barbour for clemency.

"We'll look at both petitions," Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said Tuesday. "There's not an automatic answer when someone seeks a stay or anything like that."

Holland was sentenced to death for raping, beating, stabbing and suffocating 15-year-old Krystal King in Harrison County in 1987.

Woodward was sentenced to death for the 1986 rape and shooting death of 24-year-old Rhonda Crane, of Escatawpa.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Crane's father, Robert Holloman, who discovered her body, said he would not attend the execution and did not want to discuss it.

In a previous interview, he had said "They didn't give him the death penalty; he earned it."

Crane's mother, Lynda Holloman, who died in 2005, had expressed doubt Woodward would be put to death.

Epps' day will begin at 8 a.m. with the activation of the Emergency Operations Center, which he described as the "brain room" for emergencies.

It costs $11,000 per execution, Epps said, and requires a staff of 80.

At 9 a.m., the phones will be checked. There are 2 lines, 1 to the governor's office, the other to the attorney general's office, Epps said. Representatives from both place calls prior to the execution to ensure there are no last-minute changes to the plan.

Holland's attorney, Steve Orlansky, of Jackson, said his client's clemency case is compelling.

Orlansky said a neuropsychiatrist on Friday diagnosed Holland with a brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation, stemming from an incident when he was a teenager, prior to his crime.

"He was in a trailer with gas heat and the flame on the heater went out and it filled with gas and very nearly asphyxiated him," Orlansky said. Woodward's attorney, Jack Williams, of Oxford, did not return a phone call Tuesday.

At 9:30 a.m., assigned staff members will gather in the superintendent's conference room for a briefing. The superintendent will make remarks, as will Epps.

"I make sure the staff knows I appreciate their volunteering to do this. We don't make it mandatory that you have to work an execution," Epps said. "I tell them that if anybody has any problem, please bring it to our attention."

At 1 p.m., passes to the execution chamber will be issued by security, according to MDOC's scheduled timeline of events. The "execution team" will report to Unit 17 to prepare the lethal injection system and for a dry run of the execution.

At 3 p.m., the phones will be checked again. At the same time, Woodward on today and Holland on Thursday will have one hour for a visit with the chaplain and their attorneys. Epps said he also plans to pay a visit to both.

At 4 p.m., the offender will be served his last meal and allowed to shower.

"Some say, 'I don't want no shower,' some say they do," Epps said. "We don't use force on them to make them shower at this point in their lives."

Woodward committed 2 infractions while incarcerated, both in 1993 for refusal to obey. Holland's rap sheet includes nine infractions, for things such as refusing to remove towels from a window of his cell in 1995, for flooding his toilet in 1998 and for refusing a haircut in 2007, according to MDOC.

The inmates are moved to a cell near the execution chamber 48 hours before their execution, Epps said, and are then monitored around the clock.

At 4:30 p.m., Epps, Superintendent Emmitt Sparkman and witnesses from the governor's and attorney general's offices are scheduled to meet for dinner at the Guesthouse.

At 5 p.m., staff again will check the equipment to ensure it is working properly. The offender is offered a sedative. Witnesses are issued passes and briefed on procedures and regulations.

The victims' family members are kept separated from the inmates' witnesses, but Epps said it does not appear that will be any problem this week.

"The 2 convicts, to my knowledge don't have any witnesses" attending the execution, Epps said.

At 5:30 p.m., the hearse will be parked in the rear adjacent to the execution chamber. At that time, a staffer will monitor the telephone in the execution chamber and will continue to do so until a stay is granted or the offender has been executed. Epps said both Attorney General Jim Hood and Barbour also have his cell phone number, should they need to reach him.

At 6 p.m., the offender will be escorted from the holding cell and strapped to the gurney. One minute later, catheters will be placed in each arm and a saline solution started.

At 6:10, witnesses will be escorted into the observation room. The superintendent will ask the inmate if he wants to make a final statement. He will get 5 minutes.

"If they try to go longer than 5 minutes, we'll cut the mic off," Epps said. "We time all this stuff. It's about business."

At 6:15 p.m., the superintendent will direct the executioner to proceed. The lethal injection will be administered. The phone to the governor's office will be manned during the process.

When the offender no longer exhibits signs of life, the coroner will be brought in to pronounce his death. The body eventually will be taken to the hearse and then immediately released to family members if they so desire. Otherwise, the state buries the inmate.

Epps said Holland will be buried in 1 of 2 cemeteries on the Parchman grounds. He didn't know who was claiming Woodward's body.

Source: Clarion Ledger, May 19, 2010

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