Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – June 12, 2014 – capital murder day!

Gillett v. State – death penalty sentencing – Roger Gillett and his codefendant Lisa Chamberlin killed Vernon Hulett and Linda Heintzelman in Hattiesburg and drove their bodies to Kansas.  Gillett was later convicted of two counts of capital murder and given two death sentences (possibly to guard against reincarnation). The jury found 4 aggravating factors.  His case was affirmed on direct appeal.   On post conviction, he gets a new sentencing hearing because on the introduction of inadmissible evidence.  The prosecution was relying on four aggravating factors including one involving a previous conviction of threat or violence.  The conviction here concerned  a prior escape from a prison in Kansas.  On direct appeal, the Court held that there was insufficient evidence to determine whether the Kansas conviction of attempted aggravated escape truly involved threats or violence and, thus, it should not have been given the jury.  Instead of reversing, though, the Court reweighed the three remaining aggs (avoiding arrest, hac, and felony murder) against the mitigating factors and  determined that without the prior, the mitigating evidence did not outweigh the aggravating evidence.  It therefore held t hat the giving to the jury this inadmissible agg. was harmless. 

On pcr, the Court decides that this was wrong and that its own reweighing violated Gillett’s right to due process under Brown v. Sanders, 546 U.S. 212, 126 S.Ct. 884 (2006)

cert grant

Conley v. Epps, 2013 Miss. App. LEXIS 818  (Miss.  App. Dec. 3, 2013),  – Glen Conley was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.  The murder for which he was convicted was committed on May 23, 1994. At that time, there were only two penalties for capital murder under MCA Sect.  99-19-101:  death and life with the possibility of parole. Before he was convicted,  the statute  was amended to include life without parole.  On direct appeal, Conley claimed that his sentence of lwop violated the doctrine against ex post facto. The Miss.S.Ct. affirmed.   Conley v. State, 790 So. 2d 773, 779 (¶1) (Miss. 2001).

This appeal arose after Conley asked MDOC for a parole-eligibility date and was denied. Conley utilized the MDOC Administrative Remedies Program to ask for a parole-eligibility date. This request was also denied. Conley appealed this decision to the circuit court which  dismissed his appeal. On appeal to the Ct of App., it held that “Because the Mississippi Supreme Court already reviewed and affirmed the trial court’s decision in Conley, 790 So. 2d at 804 (¶123), Conley is barred from relitigating the issue  under the doctrine of res judicata”

Conley filed a petition for cert. which the Mississippi Supreme Court granted. 


And in Michelle Byrom, the Court denies Sonny’s request that it write a “reasoned opinion” (typical Sonny insult)  explaining why it reversed her capital murder conviction. 


3 thoughts on “Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – June 12, 2014 – capital murder day!

  1. Conley is interesting because if there is any meaningful difference between life with and life without parole, I can’t see it given the current parole statutes. My clients with life sentences don’t have parole dates. I know I’m interested to see what the Supremes say about this situation.

  2. There’s no hope now so any hope would make a huge difference. It’s so disappointing because I was led to believe the sentencing reform bill was going to give more options to the parole board for people serving time NOW and that’s not the case at all. Over the years I’ve encountered lots of inmates serving life (which appears to be life without parole as the statutes stand now) for murder who were offered deals to plead to manslaughter and serve as little as one year. So the District Attorney was ok with letting these offenders back on the street in a few years but the defendants who chose not to seize that opportunity are in prison forever. It’s expensive. Most of these men (and I say men for a reason) get much less likely to mow down someone over a dice game as they age. So the expense of locking these people up for life and giving the parole board no discretion to release them just seems as stupid, to me, as locking people up for possessing a small amount of drugs (or ANY amount of marijuana, for the matter). But wasting money is what legislators do best.

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