Mississippi consistently has appointed unqualified, underfunded and overburdened attorneys to represent death row inmates in their appeals, according to a court petition filed this week and reported by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. The brief was filed on behalf of 15 death row inmates challenging the systemwide failure to provide them with competent counsel during their appeals after conviction. “The remedies sought … are to correct the harm they suffered as a result of the state’s failure to do what it promised to do: provide them with competent and conscientious counsel before executing them,” according to the 51-page document filed by Jackson attorney Jim Craig and attorneys from Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.
An injunction is sought to ensure that all prisoners sentenced to die receive competent and conscientious counsel for future proceedings. In May, a lawsuit was filed in Hinds County Chancery Court on behalf of 16 death row inmates, including Gerald James Holland, who was facing execution. Chancery Court Judge William Singletary dismissed the suit, citing lack of jurisdiction, and Holland was executed days later. The Mississippi Supreme Court repeatedly has recognized the inadequacies of appointed counsel and the systemic deficiencies of the Office of Capital Post Conviction Counsel, according to the lawsuit.