Inmate denied stay of execution for killing daughter, ex-wife, in-laws

Jan Michael Brawner

By Monica Land

PARCHMAN – A death row inmate convicted of killing his 3-year-old-daughter, his ex-wife and her parents was executed Tuesday night despite repeated appeals by his attorney to the Mississippi Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jan Michael Brawner was pronounced dead at 6:18 p.m. at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

Prison officials said he Tuesday morning, Brawner had grits, a cinnamon roll and milk for breakfast. For lunch he ate two slices of turkey ham, squash and tomatoes, a salad, white bread, and punch.

For his last meal, Brawner requested and ate: One DiGiorno Italian Style Favorites Chicken Parmesan pizza, one DiGiorno Italian Style Favorites Meat Trio pizza, a small salad (lettuce, pickles, black olives, tomatoes, shredded cheddar cheese with Ranch dressing), a small bottle of Tabasco sauce, a half gallon of brewed iced sweet tea and one pint Breyer’s Blast Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup ice cream.

Brawner denied a shower, but requested a sedative.

Guards outside his cell said Brawner was “in a good mood and talkative.” He talked about the murders he was convicted of.

The Mississippi Supreme Court denied Brawner’s request to stay Tuesday’s execution and he was the second inmate to die by lethal injection in a week.

The Associated Press reported that the court’s decision Monday capped a round of legal briefs filed in Brawner’s case and that Brawner appeared to be the first person executed in the U.S. on a tie vote of judges.

The Mississippi Supreme Court voted 4-4 last week to deny a rehearing in the case. Justice Ann Lamar didn’t vote. She was district attorney in Tate County when the slayings occurred. By the time of the trial in April 2002, she was a circuit court judge, though she didn’t preside over the trial.

In court procedures, a tie vote usually means an earlier ruling stands. Brawner’s lawyer, David Calder argued that tie votes favor inmates in death penalty cases and that the tie vote had nothing to do with any lower court rulings.

Calder asked the justices to suspend court rules that prohibit people from asking a second time for a rehearing and to issue a stay of execution.

The court on Monday voted 4-3 against the motion to suspend the rules and against a stay of execution.

Calder wanted the court to issue the stay so that he could have a hearing to argue that Brawner’s previous lawyer didn’t do a good job.

Brawner was sentenced to death for the April 25, 2001, shooting deaths of his daughter, Paige, his ex-wife, Barbara Craft, and her parents, Carl and Jane Craft. Brawner killed them in their in Tate County home, stole about $300 and used his former mother-in-law’s wedding ring to propose to his girlfriend the same day, according to court records.

Brawner later admitted to the killings.

During the sentencing phase of his trial, he declined to have anyone testify on his behalf with mitigating testimony, which could have been used to sway jurors to spare his life.

“As far as life, I don’t feel that I deserve life to live,” Brawner testified at the time.

Subsequent lawyers have argued that Brawner’s trial attorney did a poor job by not calling such mitigating witnesses as his mother and a psychiatrist, who could have testified about things that had happened to him in life.

Brawner went to his former in-laws’ home after learning his ex-wife planned to stop him from seeing their child. He gave conflicting statements to police and during testimony, saying at times he wanted to borrow money and at other times that he was going to rob his father-in-law.

Court records said he was waiting at the Crafts’ home when his ex-wife arrived with her mother and the child. After becoming agitated he went to his car and got a rifle he had stolen from the house earlier in the day. He shot the former mother-in-law first, then his ex-wife. His daughter, Paige, watched the killings, court records said.

“After Brawner determined that Paige would be able to identify him, and in his words, he ‘was just bent on killing,’ he went back into the bedroom and shot his daughter twice, in the chin and head, killing her,” court records said.

He shot and killed Carl Craft when he got home from work and stole his wallet and the ring.

Brawner tried to use an insanity defense at trial, but the Mississippi State Hospital and a court-appointed psychiatrist, chosen by the defense, found that Brawner was neither insane nor incompetent to stand trial.

On Tuesday, Brawner made several calls to and visited with his lawyers.

In his final statement, Brawner said he wished to apologize to the victims’ family, adding he could not change what he had done.

“Maybe this will bring you a little peace. Thank you,” he said as he lay strapped to a gurney, the Washington Post reported.

When the drugs were administered, he appeared to take a deep breath. His mouth opened wide for a moment and then his head tilted to the side.

A brother of Brawner’s ex-wife witnessed the execution. None of his relatives were present.

Brawner requested that his body be released to Mississippi Mortuary Service, in Pearl.

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