After the U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear an appeal from Mississippi death row inmate Benny Joe Stevens, Attorney General Jim Hood’s office said that he’ll petition the court to set a May 4 execution date for Stevens.
Stevens, 52, was sentenced to death in 1999 in the slayings of four people in a mobile home in the Foxworth community. The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld his conviction and four death sentences in 2001.
Stevens shot to death his ex-wife Glenda Reid, 38; her new husband Wesley Reid; Dylan Lee, his and Glenda Reid’s son; and and a neighbor’s son, Heath Pounds, 10, in October 1998. He also was found guilty in the aggravated assault of his 16-year-old daughter, Erica Stevens, who was shot in the back.
Hood’s office earlier had asked the state’s high court to set an April 20 execution date for Robert Simon Jr. and an April 27 date for Rodney Gray after the U.S. Supreme Court had declined to hear their appeals without comment.
Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said his staff is prepared to carry out the court’s order in all three cases.
“In my staff meetings, we spend a lot of time on this issue,” Epps said Monday. “We have a policy change. We have ordered a new drug. We have to get our rehearsals. We are making sure the schedules are
straight for everything.”
Epps said his department normally does three test runs before each execution.
“We had one last Tuesday,” he said.
He also said death row inmates are aware of the potential executions through the inmate grapevine, The Clarion-Ledger, which is taken by some inmates, and through his staff.
Simon’s attorney is still fighting to keep his client alive.
In an April 1 court filing with the state Supreme Court, attorney T.H. Freeland IV said Simon hit his head in prison and is incompetent for execution. The filing is in response to Hood’s request for the April 20 execution date.
Freeland doesn’t describe how Simon hit his head, but said Simon can’t understand his case and has trouble carrying on conversations.
Freeland wants the state Supreme Court to block Simon’s execution and send the case back to a Quitman County judge for a hearing on Simon’s competency. The court has not ruled on the motion.
Simon was sentenced to death for the killings of Carl Parker, his wife, Bobbie Jo, and their son, Gregory, on Feb. 2, 1990. He was sentenced to life in prison for the killing of Charlotte Parker, the slain couple’s 9-year-old daughter. The killings occurred a few hours after the family had returned to their rural Quitman County home from church services.
Gray was sentenced to death in 1996 for killing 79-year-old Grace Blackwell of Louin two years earlier.
Blackwell was last seen in her car, withdrawing money from a bank. Her body was found later that day at the end of a bridge in Newton County. She had been shot several times. Her billfold, checkbook and the contents of her purse were found nearby, and her car was later found behind a service station in Decatur.
“We have a number of cases which are at this critical point, so our state may see a number of executions before the end of the year,” Hood said in a news release about Gray last month.
Hood has said Mississippi “most likely will” use pentobarbital in its next execution. But Hood said at the time that the state was still looking for more sodium thiopental, an anesthetic the state has used in the past as part of a three-drug mixture.
Sodium thiopental is one of the most common execution drugs used in the U.S., but a nationwide shortage has forced states to consider other options. Some states have already decided to use pentobarbital, a surgical sedative that is commonly used to euthanize animals.