With four executions so far and two more scheduled for June, Mississippi is poised to execute more people this year than it has since 1956. In fact, the last time Mississippi executed more than four inmates in a single year was 1961. In that bygone era, inmates could be executed for armed robbery. Now, capital murder is the only crime punishable by death in Mississippi, yet the state is on pace to see more executions this year as national numbers continue to move in the opposite direction.
While some are calling the flurry of Mississippi’s executions a predictable overlap in the appeals process, one local attorney who has worked on behalf of death row inmates disagrees. Jim Craig says that the Mississippi Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel lacks manpower and funding, filing appeals solely on court transcripts and failing to re-interview witnesses. According to Mr. Craig:
“This is more than just the usual things moving at the usual speed. This is a breakdown in the system of providing lawyers to poor people when the state is trying to execute them. [...] A pace of one or two executions a year is about what Mississippi has averaged. The reason why we have had 11 since 2008, I think it has to do with the failures of the post-conviction office in those years.”
The death penalty is hardly a cheaper option for a state than providing substantial post-conviction legal counsel. One comprehensive study of North Carolina’s death penalty found that sentencing a defendant to die costs the state $2.16 million more per execution over the costs of sentencing inmates to life imprisonment without parole.