The Mississippi Supreme Court has set execution dates for two inmates next month.
In orders handed down Wednesday, the court says Benny Joe Stevens will be put to death May 10 and Rodney Gray will be put to death May 17.
Stevens was sentenced to death in 1999 in the slaying of four people in the Foxworth community of Marion County. Among those killed were Stevens’ former wife and their 11-year-old son. Stevens’ 16-year-old daughter was wounded but escaped from the mobile home.
Gray was sentenced to death in 1996 for the 1994 rape and murder of 79-year-old Grace Blackwell of Louin.
Barring a miraculous reprieve, two Mississippi death row inmates will be put to death a week apart next month and will become the first executed with a new lethal injection cocktail.
On Wednesday, the Mississippi Supreme Court set execution dates for Benny Joe Stevens and Rodney Gray.
Stevens’ execution date is May 10 and Gray’s is May 17.
“We have had rehearsals and are ready to carry out any execution set by the court,” Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps said.
Epps said MDOC will use the drug pentobarbital in its three-drug lethal injection instead of sodium thiopental, the commonly used drug in prior executions across the country. A nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental has prompted some states to look for an alternative.
Attorneys for some death row inmates argued Wednesday in Hinds County Circuit Court that legislative or court approval is needed to change the drug protocol in lethal injections.
Circuit Judge Bill Gowan did not rule.
But Epps said his attorneys said the matter became moot after the Supreme Court issued the orders setting the execution dates.
Stevens, now 52, was sentenced to death in 1999 for killing four people in Marion County’s Foxworth community.
Killed were Glenda Lee Reid, 38, Stevens’ former wife; Wesley Lee Reid, 38, the woman’s husband; Dylan Reid, the 11-year-old son of Stevens and Glenda Lee Reid; and Heath Pounds, 10, a neighbor’s son who apparently was spending the night with Dylan Reid.
Gray, now 38, was sentenced to death in 1996 for the 1994 rape and murder of 79-year-old Grace Blackwell of Louin.
Blackwell was found shot multiple times in Newton County. She last had been seen withdrawing a large amount of money from her bank.
After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Gray’s appeal on March 28 and Stevens’ appeal on April 4, Attorney General Jim Hood asked the state Supreme Court to set execution dates for both.
Hood requested Grays’ execution for April 27 and Stevens’ for May 4.
Earlier, Hood had asked that an April 20 execution date be set for another condemned killer – Robert Simon Jr. The court has not ruled on Simon’s case.
In Simon’s case, the court earlier this month ordered his medical records released. His attorneys have argued Simon hit his head in prison and is incompetent to be put to death. The state Supreme Court said it would not rule on any motions until the medical issue is resolved.
But in the cases of Gray and Stevens, justices said in separate orders Wednesday that there are no impediments to carrying out the executions.
Gray’s and Stevens’ attorney, Glenn Swartzfager of the Mississippi Office of Post-Conviction Counsel, said his office will continue to fight to keep the inmates alive.
“We’re looking at all other avenues,” Swartzfager said Wednesday.
In addition to waiting on a ruling from Gowan, Swartzfager said clemency requests will be filed.
Gov. Haley Barbour, however, has never granted a clemency request for a death row inmate during his two four-year terms.
Also, Stevens and Gray can’t expect to get relief in a lawsuit brought by them and several other inmates alleging inadequate legal representation in their post-conviction appeals.
On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court rejected their appeal and said the case is “fully and finally denied.”
Family members of the victims couldn’t be reached for comment.
Also, no family member of Gray or Stevens could be reached.
“Our prayers are with all the families involved,” Hood said.