Judge Temporarily Blocks Mississippi Execution

Published February 6, 2012 9:27PM (EST)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked the execution of a Mississippi inmate who killed two men during a robbery spree in 1995. The man's attorneys asked for the order, not arguing guilt or innocence, but that Edwin Hart Turner is mentally ill and should not be executed.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ordered the Mississippi Department of Corrections to allow Turner to be seen by a psychiatrist of his choosing.

James Craig with the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center argues that a Mississippi Department of Corrections policy prohibited Turner from getting tests that could prove he's mentally ill. Craig said the policy, which dates to the 1990s, violates prisoners' rights to have access to courts and other materials that can help them develop evidence.

The policy requires court orders for medical experts or others to visit and test inmates. Craig said the right tests would show Turner is mentally ill.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has said Turner's lawyers are bringing up old arguments that have been rejected by the courts before.

"We argue that his mental health claims have been fully addressed, and that this present action is nothing more than an attempt to re-litigate a claim that has been properly adjudicated at every turn," Hood said in a statement.

Mississippi is one of 10 states that permit someone who suffered from serious mental illness at the time of the offense to be executed, according to a petition filed with the U.S. Supreme Court. Turner's lawyers want the Court to prohibit the execution of mentally ill people the way it did inmates considered mentally retarded.

There's little dispute that Turner killed the men then went home and had a meal of shrimp and cinnamon rolls before going to sleep. He's scheduled to die by injection Wednesday.

His attorneys have filed two separate petitions that seek to stop the execution, one with the U.S. Supreme Court and the other one in federal court in Jackson.

Turner's lawyers argue that Turner inherited a serious mental illness. His father is thought to have committed suicide by shooting a gun into a shed filled with dynamite and his grandmother and great-grandmother both spent time in the state mental hospital.

Craig said in a telephone interview Monday that Turner had spent three months in the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield after slitting his wrists in 1995. He had been out about six weeks before the killings occurred.

Turner, 38, was convicted of killing the two men while robbing gas stations with his friend, Paul Murrell Stewart, in a spree that netted about $400. Stewart, who was 17 at the time, testified against Turner and was sentenced to life in prison.

Craig said Turner was diagnosed with depression that year and given the antidepressant medication Prozac. Craig believes Turner was misdiagnosed and that Prozac compounded his problems.

"If the folks at Whitfield knew then what we know now, I feel confident they wouldn't have released him with 40 milligrams of Prozac," Craig said.

By Salon Staff

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