Thousands have signed an online petition in support of death row inmate Larry
Matthew Puckett and some gathered Monday at the state Capitol to protest 2
executions scheduled in Mississippi this week.
Puckett, 35, is scheduled for execution by lethal injection on Tuesday at 6
p.m. William Mitchell, 61, is scheduled for execution Thursday.
Puckett, who earned the rank of Eagle Scout, was convicted of sexually
assaulting and killing his former boss' wife when he was 18. Rhonda Hatten
Griffis, a 28-year-old mother of two, was found dead in her Forrest County home
in October 1995.
While Puckett's supporters claim that the woman's husband killed her in a
jealous rage, the victim's mother says that she found Puckett in the home
holding an axe handle.
"I caught him in her house with the club in his hand," Nancy Hatten told The
Associated Press on Friday. "Her husband wasn't anywhere on the premises at the
time. He drove up later."
Griffis' husband found his wife's battered body in the living room, according
to court records.
Puckett was captured two days later. He confessed to being at the Griffis' home
to burglarize it, but he claimed Griffis' husband killed her, according to
court records. Puckett was sentenced to death on Aug. 5, 1996. He has spent
some of his time on death row writing essays, including musing about what it
will be like to be executed.
Puckett's supporters hope to persuade Gov. Phil Bryant to stop the execution.
Spokesman Mick Bullock said the governor and his staff was reviewing the facts
in both cases and had no further comment at this time.
Mitchell's attorney, Glenn S. Swartzfager, said he hopes to file a petition
Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to block the execution.
Mitchell had been out of prison on parole for less than a year for a 1975
murder when he was charged with raping and killing Patty Milliken, 38.
Milliken disappeared on Nov. 21, 1995, after walking out of the Majik Mart
convenience store where she worked in Biloxi to have a cigarette with Mitchell.
Her body was found the next day under a bridge. She had been "strangled,
beaten, sexually assaulted, and repeatedly run over by a vehicle," according to
At the state Capitol, many of the roughly 50 people gathered there wore black
t-shirts that said 'SAVE MATT' in white letters. Many said they had changed
their opinions about the death penalty after hearing about Puckett's case. As
of Monday, there were nearly 4,500 electronic signatures on a petition called
"Save Matt Puckett-Stop an Innocent Man From Being Executed."
Mary Puckett said that her son's treatment was unfair from the very beginning.
"Like a lot of people, I thought if someone was convicted of a crime, they were
probably guilty," Puckett said. "But if this can happen to us, it can happen to
Jim Craig of the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, a nonprofit law office,
told those gathered at the Capitol that he sees profound problems with the way
Puckett and William Mitchell were prosecuted and how their appeals were
handled. He described their appeals as "fake."
"We are here to, among other things, expose a fraud at the center of the
Mississippi system of justice," Craig said. "Both Mr. Puckett and Mr. Mitchell
went through our state post-conviction proceedings as if they were just
representing themselves, and in fact they probably would have done better if
they had represented themselves. They probably would have done better if
William Shatner had represented them in his role on Boston Legal, because at
least William Shatner could act like he was a lawyer."
Craig said Mitchell has a long history of mental illness and that was never
considered in the normal course of appeals.
Puckett's lawyers petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court last week to block the
execution. They say prosecutors kept blacks off the jury and Puckett's former
lawyers never properly challenged his conviction on those grounds. Puckett is
white and so was his jury. Black jurors are historically less likely to choose
the death penalty.
Janet Nelson, who has known the Puckett family for years, said she couldn't
believe one of Mary's children would be capable of such a crime.
"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," Puckett said. "That (crime) is
nothing like what anyone else in their family would do. It's not how they were
(source: Associated Press)