Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Miss. death row inmate awaits execution, hopes for reprieve

Associated Press Writer

JACKSON, Miss. -- Death row inmate Earl Wesley Berry spent what could be his last hours Tuesday in a somber mood visiting with family and his attorneys, but he has not expressed remorse for the 1987 beating death of Mary Bounds, corrections officials said.
Berry is scheduled to die around 6 p.m., but he is hoping for a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court.

"His mood is talkative, but somber. He's in a somber mood," said Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps. "He's hoping that he will get the appeal. When we visited with him he cried quite a bit."

Berry has an appeal pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that challenges the constitutionality of lethal injection as the state's method of execution.

Berry's legal team filed a motion Monday that says Mississippi's legal statutes do not allow latitude in the administration of the three-drug mixture used in lethal injections.

Berry "believes that he is under imminent threat of having his federal constitutional right to remain free from cruel and unusual punishment violated by the state of Mississippi," the motion says. "In the course of administering a death sentence - a sentence unchallenged by Mr. Berry in the these proceedings - the State of Mississippi intends to employ a procedure that creates wholly unnecessary and easily avoidable risk of gratuitous pain."

Berry admits kidnapping Bounds outside the First Baptist Church on a cold November day in 1987 and beating her to death before dumping her body in the woods.

He stomped her head hard enough to leave a tennis shoe imprint on her face, according to Chickasaw County Investigator John A. Porter.

Berry asked Sunday to be baptized and prison officials accommodated the request.

Epps, who has spent his entire career working in Mississippi's prison system, called Berry "a career criminal" that he knew even before Bounds' murder.

In the past, Berry was usually talkative and playful and liked to crack jokes, Epps said.

"He's not doing a lot of joking today," Epps said. "He's not playing a lot."

Berry requested a last meal of barbecue pork sausage and barbecue pork chops, buttered toast, a salad heavy on the onions, mashed potatoes and gravy, pecan pie and juice.

He joked that he could eat pork without concerns about high blood pressure, said Daryl Neely, an adviser for Gov. Haley Barbour.

Several members of Berry's family visited with him on Tuesday, but none would witness the execution, Epps said, adding that 25 members of Bounds' family would be at the prison to honor her memory.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied one of two appeals - a state court decision - on the basis that it did not have jurisdiction in the case.

The current motions before the court asks that Berry's execution be delayed at least until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on challenges to lethal injection filed by death row inmates in Kentucky. Several states have halted executions until the Supreme Court makes a decision. The court is likely to rule on the matter next year.

Berry was sentenced to death by a Chickasaw County jury on Oct. 28, 1988. His confession was used against him during the trial.

Berry, who was 28 at the time of the murder, had been treated for paranoid schizophrenia and spent most of his adult life behind bars and in institutions.

But on Nov. 29, 1987 he was driving his grandmother's car around the tiny north Mississippi town of Houston. That's when he saw Bounds, a 56-year-old manufacturing plant supervisor, who was planning to attend the weekly choir practice that night.

This is what prosecutors say happened: Berry forced Bounds into his car and drove to a secluded area on the outskirts of town. He told her to lay on the ground with the intentions of raping her, but for some reason changed his mind. He put her back in the car - promising to return to town - and drove down a dark gravel road into the woods where he beat her to death.

After carrying Bound's body deeper into the woods, Berry returned to his grandmother's house, disposing of a mismatched pair of bloody shoes along the way. He burned his bloodstained clothes and wiped the vehicle down with a towel, which he threw into a nearby pond.

Berry's odd behavior in trying to conceal the crime aroused his brother's suspicion and he called police on Dec. 5, 1987, just after the body was found thanks to a man who spotted Bounds' black high heel shoes on the side of the road.

Berry was arrested the next day and confessed. Investigators later found his bloody shoes and the towel used to clean the car.

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