Monday, March 19, 2012

The Impending Execution of William Mitchell

William Gerald Mitchell sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Mississippi on 22 March. I present a summary of his case by excerpting from the adverse appellate decision in Mitchell v. State (2001). The paragraph numbering is in the original.
4. The last time that Patty Milliken was seen alive was at the conclusion of her shift at 8:00 p.m., November 21, 1995, at the Majik Mart on Popps Ferry Road in Biloxi, Mississippi. She told her co-worker, James Leland Hartley, that she was going outside to smoke and talk to William Gerald Mitchell and that she would return shortly. Before following Mitchell outside, she telephoned her son, telling him she would be home in approximately fifteen minutes. She also left her keys in the safe to initiate a 10-minute time-released unlock and her purse and other personal items on the counter. Patty Milliken's body was found the following morning under a bridge. She had been beaten, strangled, sexually assaulted, crushed by being driven over, and mutilated. 
5. The record shows that on November 21, 1995, Hartley saw Mitchell enter the store three separate times to visit Milliken while she was working her shift. Hartley overheard Milliken refer to Mitchell by the name of "Jerry." At the end of Milliken's shift that evening, around 8:00 p.m., Milliken and Hartley realized that they had forgotten to document the amount of cash they had placed in the safe that night. Milliken opened the safe and telephoned her son that she would be home in fifteen minutes. At approximately 8:05 p.m. Milliken decided to walk out of the store with Mitchell and told Hartley that "she'd be outside smoking a cigarette if [Hartley] needed her and that she'd be right back." 
6. Milliken left her keys in the lock on the safe, cigarettes and lighter on one counter, and her purse on another counter. Hartley testified that it was odd for Milliken to go outside to smoke because employees were authorized to smoke inside the store. Ten minutes after Milliken had gone outside, Hartley walked outside to ask her a question, but she was not there. Her belongings were still inside the store, and her car remained in the parking lot. Hartley telephoned Milliken's home and learned that she had not been in contact with her family. When Milliken had still not returned by 10:00 p.m., Hartley telephoned the police. 
7. When the police arrived, Hartley gave them Milliken's purse and showed them where she had written Jerry's phone number. The police cross-referenced the telephone number to a physical address, and proceeded to 323 Croesus Street. The police arrived at the residence at approximately midnight. 
8. Officers Matory and Doucet went to the front door, and Officer McKaig "was on the right side of the house approaching the rear." McKaig saw Mitchell, and Mitchell asked, "Who's that?" McKaig identified himself as a police officer and explained that he wanted to speak to him. Mitchell ran, and a pursuit on foot followed. 
9. Captain Anderson responded to assist with the foot pursuit. Captain Patterson, arriving to assist with the foot pursuit, spoke with Booker Gatlin, Mitchell's grandfather and owner of the residence on Croesus Street. Gatlin indicated that "Jerry" was William Gerald Mitchell, and that he drove a blue Grand Am. 
10. When the foot pursuit proved unsuccessful, the Biloxi Police Department issued a be-on-the-lookout ("BOLO") for Mitchell and his vehicle. Shortly thereafter, an officer spotted Mitchell getting gas at a Shell station located on U.S. Highway 90. When Mitchell noticed the police car, he threw down the gas nozzle he was using and sped away in his vehicle. Patrolman Sonnier took part in the pursuit of Mitchell. That evening he had a television camera crew riding with him, and they were able to film most of the pursuit. Sonnier testified that Mitchell was the driver of the vehicle and that Curtis Pearson was his passenger. The high-speed chase ended in Mitchell being arrested for various traffic violations. Mitchell's passenger, Pearson, testified that, during the chase, Mitchell stated 2-3 times that he "got that bitch." 
11. Officer Heard of the Biloxi Police Department discovered the mutilated, almost naked body of Patty Milliken under the Popps Ferry Bridge at 7:14 a.m. the following morning. Officer Robert Burriss arrived at the scene at approximately 7:30 a.m., and worked the scene until 2:00 p.m. Burriss testified that he found Milliken's body on its back. She had part of a shirt sleeve around her right arm and part of her bra around her left arm, with only a pair of white socks clothing her body. Her body was bruised and scraped, and her head was "burst open" with the brains "spilling out of the skull, scattered about on the yard, and there (sic) was also some of the brain matter stuck on her back." 
12. There were "numerous" tire tracks "back and forth all over that area;" tracks that were similar to the ones found on Milliken's body. Testing would ultimately show that the tire casts from the area matched three of the four tires on Mitchell's car with regard to tread design, size and "overall width." 
13. Later that day, pursuant to a search warrant, Burriss also collected evidence from Mitchell's car. Burriss made a diagram of the car indicating where he found "various pieces of blood and hair on the automobile." Burriss found hair and blood on the passenger door; blood underneath the fender and body of the car, as well as on the catalytic converter; and blood spatters in three of the wheel wells. Milliken's broken lower dentures were also found in Mitchell's car. 
14. After Mitchell's arrest for traffic violations, he was taken to the Biloxi Police Department. Mitchell was initially interviewed by Sergeant Torbert and Investigator Thompson. Later, Officers Newman and Peterson interviewed Mitchell at 1:07 p.m. on November 22, 1995, the same day Milliken's body was found. At the time of this second interview, Mitchell had not 198*198 been arrested or charged with murder, but was in custody for the traffic violations. Mitchell said that he was the only one to use his vehicle that night. Mitchell claimed that Milliken was alive when he left her, though he did admit that he had hit her hard enough in the nose that "blood just flew everywhere." A redacted version of Mitchell's second interview was admitted during the trial. The tape was edited and redacted at the point before Mitchell made any statement that he killed or was responsible for the death of Milliken. 
15. After Mitchell's second interview, Mitchell was booked on the charge of murder and transported to the Harrison County Jail. Prior to his transfer, a suspect rape kit was performed on Mitchell at the Biloxi Regional Medical Center. Later, search warrants were secured and executed on Mitchell, Mitchell's car, and Mitchell's residence at 323 Croesus Street in Biloxi. 
16. Dr. Paul McGarry performed the autopsy on Milliken's body. According to McGarry, Milliken was strangled, beaten, sexually assaulted, and repeatedly run over by a vehicle. McGarry stated that the damage to Milliken's larynx cartilages and hemorrhagic airway proved that she had been strangled. There were also semicircular marks from her attacker's fingernails on her neck. She was beaten to the point that her lower denture was broken and expelled. Her face was swollen and purple which "would evidence that hard blows had been delivered to the head." Analysis of the genital area displayed "the kind of injuries that are produced by stretching and tearing of the delicate lining of the vagina" which McGarry "interpreted as forceful penetration enough to damage the tissue and tear and rub off surfaces of the tissue, to stretch the opening. The anus was even more so damaged." McGarry confirmed that Milliken's sexual injuries occurred while she was still alive. 
17. McGarry also testified to finding five tire tracks across the victim's body. According to McGarry, Milliken apparently lived long enough to experience the crushing injuries that ruptured her kidney, liver, and spleen; broke almost every rib; broke her spine; broke her collarbone; and, tore open her lungs and heart vessels. Milliken was killed when her "brain [was] blown out by crushing and squashed out." The brain was expelled up to four feet from an opening at the top of her head measuring eight inches in diameter. 
18. At the time of Milliken's savage murder, Mitchell had been paroled for approximately eleven months from a sentence of life in prison for murder.
I oppose executions in which there is a possibility the person to be executed is factually innocent. Otherwise, I stand mute with respect to the propriety of the execution.

In the case of William Gerald Mitchell, I stand mute.

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