Court orders tests for inmate, reopening chance of execution


Associated Press


JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – The Mississippi Supreme Court says an inmate convicted of killing a prison guard must be re-evaluated to determine whether he is too intellectually disabled for the death penalty, reopening the possibility he will be executed.

In a 5-4 ruling Thursday, justices ordered a fresh evaluation of Willie Russell, originally sentenced to death for stabbing and killing prison guard Argentra Cotton in 1989 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

A Sunflower County judge set aside Russell’s death sentence, finding he is too low-functioning to be executed under a U.S. Supreme Court case banning capital punishment in such instances. But the majority finds that Circuit Judge Betty Sanders was wrong, saying additional evaluation is needed. The four-justice minority says there’s been enough testing, which could have allowed Russell’s commutation to stand.

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