Relatives of a slain Quitman County farm family were preparing to drive to the State Penitentiary at Parchman on Tuesday – a trip they’ve waited more than two decades to make – when they got a call they were dreading.
A federal court had granted death row inmate Robert Simon Jr., 47, a stay of execution.
“I could not believe it,” Mike Parker said.
More than 21 years after Carl “Bubba”, Bobbie Jo, Gregory and Charlotte Parker were murdered after they returned home to find burglars there, their family will continue to wait to see what happens to Simon as the court reviews a claim he suffered a debilitating brain injury in January.
Because of the injury, Simon lacks the mental competency required for the state to constitutionally execute him, says his attorney, Tom Freeland of Oxford.
“I’m really at a loss for words,” said Mike Parker, Bubba’s brother. “I think the whole family is.”
The three-judge 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel issued the stay about 2 p.m. – four hours ahead of the scheduled execution – but gave no details.
After hearing about the delay, Simon yelled: “They said I was a monster” and laid down on his cell bed, Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said.
Parchman superintendent Emmitt Sparkman “couldn’t really tell whether (Simon) was elated or not about the news,” Epps said.
It’s unclear how long the execution could be put on hold or what the final resolution will be.
“We asked the courts for an opportunity for a hearing related to the head injury he suffered early this year, and we’re pleased to have an opportunity to have that hearing,” Freeland said.
Simon was taken to the infirmary at Parchman Jan. 7, where he was observed to have bruises on his face. He was alert but not speaking to staff, according to records, and he did not know how he had received the injury.
Epps said he spent Tuesday morning with Simon, and they discussed the Parker family murders.
“(Simon) said he didn’t remember the incident – he didn’t remember the crime, then finally he said, ‘If you all say that I did it, then I did it,’” Epps said. “He got real jittery. He was sobbing for a moment.”
Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps gathers his thoughts before announcing death row inmate Robert Simon was granted a stay of execution by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday afternoon.
The Parker family had returned from a church service on Feb. 2, 1990, to find Simon and his accomplice, Anthony Carr, burglarizing their home. Carr, 45, also is on death row.
After shooting Bubba, Bobbie Jo, 12-year-old Gregory and 9-year-old Charlotte multiple times, raping the little girl and chopping the father’s finger off to steal his wedding ring, the killers set the home on fire and left the bodies to burn.
Charlotte Parker died of smoke inhalation, while the others died of their gunshot wounds.
“We’ve been jerked around for so long,” Mike Parker said of Tuesday’s delay. “Everybody’s mad as hell.”
Simon’s mother, Rosie, said she was overjoyed by the announcement.
“I jumped up and went to clapping my hands, saying, ‘Thank you Lord, thank you Lord,’” she said.
Suzanne Martinelli, a Honolulu resident who has been a friend and spiritual adviser to Simon for 11 years, also was happy to hear of the delay. She has visited Simon three times – in 2001, 2005 and 2008.
“It’s my understanding that he has significant brain damage,” she said Tuesday. “I’d hate to see Mississippi held responsible for a wrongful execution.”
Freeland, in an affidavit to the court, said Simon did not recognize him in a meeting in March.
“He was unable to understand what was occurring in his case,” Freeland wrote.
Simon served as a corrections officer at Parchman before the killings, but told Epps Tuesday he did not remember that.
Mike Parker said the family is skeptical of the claims in Simon’s petition, particularly since those who know the condemned killer say he spends most of his time reading law books.
“He’s had 21 years to learn the system,” Mike Parker said. “He knows exactly what he’s doing.”
Simon had been moved to a cell adjacent to the lethal injection room, and Parchman was on lockdown in anticipation of the state’s third execution in three weeks. Benny Joe Stevens, 52, and Rodney Gray, 38, were executed earlier this month.
Simon was running in place and doing pushups Tuesday morning, Epps said. He said he was preparing a final statement when the notice came.
“I think he was really looking forward to his last meal,” Epps added.
Simon had requested fried chicken legs, pinto beans, cornbread, watermelon and lemonade.
Now, everyone waits.
“We stand ready to carry out the order of the court,” Epps said.