Like the rest of the nation, state’s Death Row population declines the last 20 years
Published 4:40 pm Tuesday, August 17, 2021
Mississippi hasn’t executed a Death Row inmate since former grocery store butcher Gary Carl Simmons Jr. was executed on June 20, 2012, for the grisly 1996 murder and dismemberment of Jeffrey Wolfe and the subsequent kidnapping and rape of Wolfe’s girlfriend in Pascagoula.
At that time, there were 53 inmates on Mississippi’s Death Row at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. Twenty years ago, Mississippi’s Death Row had 63 inmates. A decade ago, there were 57 inmates awaiting execution. Today, there are 37 condemned men and one condemned woman on Mississippi’s Death Row.
Over Mississippi’s nine-year execution hiatus, some inmates have died. Some, like Curtis Flowers, were exonerated and released. The global COVID pandemic has played no small role. There were nearly 3,600 U.S. inmates schedule for execution in the early 2000s, but that number has dropped to some 2,600.
But Mississippi’s Death Row population is smaller because our state is following national trends of fewer death sentences being given (only one in Mississippi in 2020), judicial inertia as the debate over lethal injection drugs continue, and national support for the death penalty has declined, according to the Gallup poll.
Between the peak of over 300 annual U.S. executions in the mid-1990s, consider that in 2020 only 17 people in the U.S. were executed. Legal scholar Ian Millhiser wrote that the total “would be much lower if not for the Trump administration resuming federal executions this year for the first time in nearly two decades. 2020 is the first year in American history when the federal government executed more people than all of the states combined – 10 of the 17 people executed in 2020 were killed by the federal government.”
Still on Mississippi’s Death Row are inmates Anthony Carr, 55, and Robert Simon Jr., 57, who were convicted and sentenced to death for the Feb. 2, 1990, murders of the Carl “Bubba” Parker family at their Walnut community home on Hwy. 322 southwest of Lambert in Quitman County.
The family left the Riverside Baptist Church Bible study class at about 9 p.m. to return to their home. Parker, 58; his wife Bobbie Jo, 45; daughter Charlotte Jo, 9; and son Gregory, 12, were active in the church where Bobbie Jo served as the church secretary and pianist.
The family entered the isolated rural home in the midst of an apparent burglary, Quitman County investigators later testified. Court records show the killers shot all four family members, sexually assaulted the little girl, cut Parker’s finger off his bound body to steal his wedding ring and then set fire to the home and left the wounded family to burn alive.
Carr and Simon remain on Death Row. Also waiting, also serving a different kind of time is Scott Parker, the sole survivor of the Carl Parker family – who stoically waits for justice to be done for his slaughtered family. In the Parker case, a remarkable thing happened. One of the poorest counties in Mississippi raised county taxes three years in a row in an attempt to pay for the criminal defense of Carr and Simon.
The Constitution guarantees every criminal the right to counsel. Criminals who are indigent don’t forfeit those rights. That right is designed to keep the system honest and to keep the poor from falling through the cracks of the judicial system simply by virtue of their poverty and inability to hire quality attorneys.
And while local judges who must seek re-election from the majority of Mississippi voters who favor the death penalty may wink and nudge at the state’s current inadequacies in indigent defense, appellate judges do not.
Mississippi’s consistent failure to provide competent, reliable indigent defense to criminals slows down the appeals process to a crawl and is particularly advantageous to defendants in capital cases. In short, the failure of Mississippi taxpayers to pay for proper indigent defense in fact gives Death Row inmates a longer lease on life through more appeals.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.