Friday, 12 October 2007

Court sets execution date for killer

October 12, 2007

By Chris Joyner

The Mississippi Supreme Court set Oct. 30 as the execution date for convicted killer Earl Wesley Berry, despite an unsettled debate over the legality of lethal injection, the execution method used in Mississippi and 37 other states.

Berry had asked the state high court to stay his execution until the U.S. Supreme Court had decided on an appeal challenging lethal injection.

The case, which is expected to be heard early next year, was brought by two Kentucky death row inmates who argue lethal injection amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and violates their constitutional rights.

Writing for the majority, Mississippi Presiding Justice Bill Waller Jr. said Thursday the matter before the U.S. Supreme Court does not provide legal justification for delaying executions in Mississippi.

Presiding Justice Oliver Diaz was the lone dissenter. Justice James Graves Jr. did not participate.

Andrea Lyon, director of the DePaul University Center for Justice in Capital Cases, disagreed with the Mississippi court's decision.

"What's in front of the (U.S.) Supreme Court is whether this method can be used now and this gentleman is not dead yet," she said.

Berry was convicted of the Nov. 19, 1987, beating death of Mary Bounds of Houston, who was abducted as she left her weekly church choir practice. Berry confessed.

The U.S. Supreme Court last week declined to hear his appeal.

Pete Smith, spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour, said Berry's execution is overdue. "The Supreme Court has set the date. The real tragedy in this case is that justice has been delayed for almost 20 years," he said.

Attorney General Jim Hood's office asked the state Supreme Court to set a date for Berry's execution.

"This murderer killed a lady in my mother's Sunday school class," he said. "We're going to do everything we can do to move forward."

Hood said he expects Berry's attorneys to appeal the Mississippi court's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. "I don't know that the Supreme Court will stay this execution. It may go on," he said.

Either way, Hood said he does not foresee the U.S. Supreme Court ruling lethal injection unconstitutional, although it may require states to adopt new procedures.

Berry's attorney in his appeals, Bob Ryan of the Mississippi Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel, was not available for comment.

To comment on this story, call Chris Joyner at (601) 360-4619.

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