Death Row Inmates File Motion To Halt Execution

Six death row inmates have filed a motion in federal court requesting a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to halt next week's scheduled execution of Tracy Alan Hansen .

The motion and a lawsuit were filed Friday with the U.S. District Court in Aberdeen on behalf of death row inmates Willie Russell, Sherwood Brown, Kevin Jordan, John Nixon, Paul Woodward and Hansen.

The American Civil Liberties Union and its local chapter joined Jackson attorney Robert McDuff, and attorney Stephen P. Hanlon, of Tallahassee, Fla., in the filings. They are asking the court to stop the scheduled execution so that Hansen can testify in the lawsuit.

The suit, filed against state Department of Correction Commissioner Robert L. Johnson and other prison officials, claims that the inmates' constitutional and statutory rights were violated at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman. Johnson and other prison officials are accused of depriving prisoners of basic personal hygiene needs, adequate shelter, medical, mental, dental treatment, among other things.

"Tracy Hansen is a material witness in this action and his testimony cannot be replaced,'' the motion says. "He has compelling testimony to offer as to each of the seven categories of unconstitutional conditions identified by plaintiffs in their complaint.''

Hansen, 39, was convicted in the 1987 killing of Trooper Bruce Ladner, who was gunned down after pulling over Hansen's car for speeding on Interstate 10. The jury returned a death sentence.

"We're going to be responding to the lawsuit in the very near future,'' said Joe Goff, a special assistant attorney general. "We're immediately responding to the request to stay the execution and we don't believe the request is warranted. We don't believe the law allows for the request to be granted.''

Kara Gotsch, a spokeswoman for the ACLU's National Prison Project in Washington, D.C., said Hansen has been on death row for 13 years and was very active in urging inmates to join him in the lawsuit.

"He knows how desperate and tortuous the conditions are there,'' Gotsch said.

"For many years he has complained about the conditions on death row and led other prisoners to improve conditions. He has drafted numerous petitions signed by other prisoners.''

The ACLU's National Prison Project is a group that seeks to improve what it calls poor living conditions inside some of the nation's prisons.

In his affidavit, Hansen claims he has suffered "physical degradation'' that has almost driven him to a mental collapse. He said the state prison has a sewage problem and last month the sewage "backed up in all the cells.'' Hansen claims the prison is hot and ventilation "seems to be nonexistent.''

"The conditions are medieval. It's like living in the Dark Ages. We're not just talking about death row prisoners,'' Gotsch said. "We're talking about mentally ill prisoners living in utter filth. They're constantly inundated with bugs and mosquitos. They have severely inadequate food and medical care. It is like a torture chamber.''

All six inmates that filed suit have been at the state prison for five years are more.

  • Russell was sentenced to death for the July 18, 1989, slaying of Parchman prison guard Argentra Cotton with a homemade knife. Russell was serving time for armed robbery, escape and kidnapping charges from Hinds County when he killed the guard.
  • Brown was convicted in 1995 for killing three people. He was sentenced to death for the murders of 82-year-old Betty Boyd, her daughter-in-law, 49-year-old Verline Boyd, and 13-year-old Evangelo Charmain Boyd, the daughter of Verline and granddaughter of Betty.
  • Jordan was convicted of capital murder in 1996. He was sentenced to death for the 1995 killings of Codera Bradley and Tony Roberts.
  • Nixon was convicted in the January 1985 death of Virginia Tucker, 45, of Brandon. Tucker was shot in the head at her home.
  • Woodward was convicted on April 29, 1987, for capital murder and sentenced to death in the killing of Rhonda Crane. Crane was a volunteer worker at the Jackson County Youth Court.