Sunday, 28 October 2007

Grief resurfaces for victim's family as execution nears

Mary Bounds' life in pictures. Bounds of Houston was beaten to death in 1987. Her killer, Earl Wesley Berry, is scheduled for execution Tuesday. His fate now rests with the U.S. Supreme Court. At question is whether Berry should die by lethal injection.

Earl Wesley Berry will die with a prison-issued needle in his arm at sunset Tuesday - if the courts do not stop it.

But this is not a story about Berry. It is about Berry's victim, that church-going mom, Sunday school teacher and a lover of horses who suffered a frightening death on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in her 57th year of life.

Much of the story about Bounds comes from her daughter, Jena Watson, 48, who is angry and sad and, now that it appears as if Berry is about to pay for what he did, is unexpectedly re-experiencing the grief she felt 20 years ago.

"When we were told an execution date had been set, it seemed to bring back her death all over again. I didn't expect that," Watson said. "You work for 20 years through the grief, and it's just all brought back."

The woman who died in 1987 as Mary Bounds started life as Mary Springer, a child of the Great Depression, born to a hard-working couple in rural Clay County.
She adored music, and she sang in the church choir as a way of connecting with that love. When she was a teenager, her family moved to neighboring Houston, the sparsely populated seat of Chickasaw County.

One day, Mary met a young man named Charles Bounds, who lived in Calhoun County and had a cousin in Houston who set the two up.
"We never quit going together," said Charles, now 79 and a man of few words.
Back then, young Charles, too, had a love for music. And he proved it with his band, Charles Bounds and the Blue Sky Playboys.

The band traveled from radio station to radio station across the South, as was the norm in the 1950s, singing live bluegrass and country on the air. The band produced a couple of albums and had modest success.
Then Charles popped the question.
"I remember being just thrilled with that," said Rosemarie Kellar, who remembers sitting on the family's sofa right next to young Mary on that day. "We all had just fallen in love with her."
Kellar, who was a child of 5 or 6 back then, had grown up around her uncle Charles. She said the family took to Mary immediately.

"She was like a daughter in the family, not a daughter-in-law," said Kellar, who now lives in Brookhaven.
Not long after the wedding, Charles was drafted into the Army and spent 18 months fighting in the Korean War.
When he got home, he drove a truck, hauling caskets across the Southeast.

Mary worked in a factory in Houston, overseeing the manufacturing of pants.

Their only daughter was born in 1959.

Mary was a busy woman - church and the choir, Sunday school teaching and a full-time job. She got so busy that she'd developed a reputation for running late and showing up for things in the nick of time.

When she was not working or teaching, she used to minister to young ladies, often poor women, single moms who, through word of mouth, Mary came to know needed help.
She would buy groceries for them. Often, she'd bring her daughter along on these trips.
Watson remembers one such trip, in particular.

Mother and daughter brought groceries to a woman with seven children. These children had no shoes, even though it was quite chilly outside. Because of this, they did not go to school.
Flummoxed, Mary developed a plan: She went to her car, got her daughter's school notebook, and traced each child's foot onto notebook paper. Beside each footprint, she wrote a child's name.

She bought seven pairs of shoes, sized to fit the tracings.
"She worked in a factory, so her income was not a tremendous amount," Watson said. "But she just had a heart for people."

And so it was this Mary who was leaving church on a Sunday evening, Nov. 29, 1987.
Charles was out of town then, on the job, and their now-grown daughter was an hour away in Grenada, where she lived with her family.

That day, Mary had given a teenage girl a ride to church, and the girl apparently had gotten her own ride home. Worried about the young lady, Bounds, 56, prepared to drive to the girl's house to make sure she was OK.

She approached her car, and then was approached by a stranger, Earl Wesley Berry, who was 28 - the same age as the Bounds' daughter.

In his confession, Berry, who is listed as 6 feet,1 inch tall and 255 pounds, described what he did on that evening as this:
He was driving his grandmother's car through Houston when he happened upon Bounds as she prepared to enter her car.
He intended to rape her.
Berry approached her, hit her, dragged her into his grandma's car and drove out of town. Mary's purse and Bible lay abandoned on her car's front seat.

Berry took her to the woods and ordered her to lie down, but he did not rape her.
Kellar likes to believe that her aunt was ministering to Berry throughout her time with him; perhaps this made the difference.

In any event, according to Berry's confession, he put Bounds back in the car and said he would take her back to town.
But something made him change his mind. So he drove elsewhere in the woods, dragged Mary from of the car, and beat her to death with his bare hands. This, kidnapping and murder, led to where Berry, 48, is now, on Mississippi's death row with 64 others.

Over the years, in court testimony, a vague picture of Berry emerged. He was a disturbed young man who'd twice tried to kill himself, once by swallowing razor blades.
He had spent time in mental institutions at least twice, once being treated for paranoid schizophrenia. He lived with his grandmother and had an IQ that doctors estimated to be well below average.

He spent time in prison, too. Berry's convictions between 1979 and 1981 included simple assault on a law enforcement officer, grand larceny, perjury, burglary and escape.
Mississippi Department of Corrections officials say he has a clean prison record.
As courts consider the constitutionality of lethal injection, Berry is the only inmate in Mississippi with an execution date.

On Friday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Berry's appeal. He should not have waited until execution was imminent before challenging the state's method of carrying it out, according to the ruling.

His fate now rests with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Berry's attorney, Jim Craig, said the fight to keep him alive is not about the man's guilt or innocence. Legally, the fight is about whether Mississippi should be allowed to kill a man with injections of sodium pentothal, Pavulon and potassium chloride, or if such a death is painfully cruel.

But really, Craig said, the fight is about right versus wrong. "A civilized society does not respond in kind to evil," he said.

But Attorney General Jim Hood said the law provides for punishment by death and that attorneys are sworn to uphold the law. "Just because you don't morally believe in something doesn't give you the right to violate the law," Hood said.

Watson, Mary's daughter, does not want to talk about politics and the death penalty, crime and punishment, the power of the people or the power of evil.
She wants to talk about her mom and about how it is because of Berry's choices that her own four children do not know the woman who gave so much.

This was a woman who laughed at herself and whose first concern was always other people. Bounds was a woman who likely would have helped Berry, too, if only he'd asked.


Nov. 29, 1987: Mary Bounds, 57, is reported missing.

Dec. 1: Bounds’ vehicle is located in Houston. Spattered blood is found around the driver’s-side door. Her body is found nearby. She had been severely beaten. It was determined she died of head injuries from repeated blows.

March 1, 1988: Earl Wesley Berry is indicted in the murder and kidnapping of Bounds and as a habitual criminal. He eventually is convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.

WHAT’S NEXT Earl Wesley Berry is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman.

1 comment:

saintjoseph said...

His fate now rests with the U.S. Supreme Court.
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