Mississippi Inmates Challenge State for Appointing Ineffective Counsel

Sixteen death row inmates have filed a lawsuit against the state of Mississippi, claiming that their executions should be halted because their state-appointed attorneys were “untrained, inexperienced, and overwhelmed.” Under Mississippi law, the state must provide “competent and conscientious” counsel for death row inmates before execution dates can be set. The law suit, filed in Hinds County Chancery Court, claims that the attorneys appointed through the Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel did not meet that criteria and were overwhelmed with other cases. In one example cited in the lawsuit, the Mississippi Supreme Court ordered the office to file a motion for DNA testing on behalf of Blayde Grayson, who was sentenced to death in 1997, but the office never filed the motion. Two death row inmates who are part of the lawsuit are scheduled to be executed consecutively later this month. Gerald Holland, age 72 and the oldest inmate on death row, is scheduled to be executed on May 20. Paul Everette, age 62, will be executed on May 19. The last back-to-back executions in the state took place in 1961.

An investigation in a death penalty appeal “requires hundreds and sometimes thousands of hours if properly performed by competent and conscientious counsel, almost always with the assistance of investigators and experts,” the lawsuit says. James Craig, attorney for the inmates, said one state-appointed attorney years ago was handling up to nine
death penalty cases in the office.

(J. Mitchell, “16 death row inmates sue Miss.,” The Clarion Ledger, May 7, 2010). See also Representation and Arbitrariness.