Monday, June 18, 2012

The Impending Execution of Gary Simmons

Gary Carl Simmons, Jr. sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Mississippi on 20 June 2012. I offer a summary of his case from the appellate decision of Simmons v. State (2001).
On October 11, 1996, Gary Carl Simmons, Jr. (Simmons), and Timothy John "Timmy" Milano (Milano) were indicted for the capital murder of Jeffery Wolfe, while engaged in the commission of a robbery. Simmons and Milano were also indicted for the kidnaping and rape of Charlene Brooke Leaser. ... 
In the early morning hours of August 11, 1996, Jeffery Wolfe and Charlene Brooke Leaser drove from Houston, Texas, to Jackson County, Mississippi. They had only known each other a few weeks. Wolfe asked Leaser to accompany him on a trip to the Gulf Coast to "pick up some money" from some friends that were in his debt. Leaser later learned that the debt accrued some weeks earlier from a transaction involving drugs. While on the Gulf Coast, Wolfe also planned to buy new wheel rims and tires for his vehicle and then return through New Orleans with Leaser for a short vacation. Wolfe left Houston with twelve hundred dollars in his wallet. Leaser had approximately two hundred dollars in her purse. 
Upon their arrival on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, they checked into the King's Inn Hotel. Wolfe and Leaser fell asleep. Wolfe awoke early and left Leaser at the Hotel to meet Sonny Milano, Timothy Milano's brother, who worked at a local tire store. Apparently, they met a few weeks earlier while Wolfe was on the Coast conducting his illicit business deal. Later that afternoon, Wolfe and Sonny returned to the hotel room to pick up Leaser for dinner. Sonny Milano left to get his girlfriend and the four met in Wolfe and Leaser's room at the hotel. They all took Wolfe's white Honda Civic to Shoney's where they dined together. 
Sonny Milano testified that during dinner, Wolfe asked if Sonny planned to go to Simmons' house that evening. Sonny Milano, over loud protests from his girlfriend, decided to go to Simmons' house, arriving there late that evening after dropping her off. When he arrived, Simmons and Sonny's brother, Milano, were the only two at the house. Simmons asked Sonny if he had seen Wolfe and Sonny told him that they ate dinner together. Simmons asked Sonny to get in touch with Wolfe. Sonny contacted Wolfe at his hotel room and told Wolfe that he was at Simmons's house. Wolfe was pleasantly surprised to hear that Sonny was there, since Sonny's girlfriend was opposed to his going. Wolfe told Sonny that he would be there in a minute. 
Sonny conveyed this information to Simmons, who less than one minute later, approached Sonny as he talked to Milano and asked him to leave the house. Sonny testified that he did not find this unusual because "that's just Gary." Sonny left without explanation, with Wolfe on his way. 
After dinner, as the couples parted ways, Wolfe and Leaser returned to their hotel where they relaxed before leaving to meet Wolfe's debtors. They drove out to Simmons's house but found no one home. After leaving the house to pick up cigarettes and a beverage, Wolfe and Leaser returned to the hotel. To pass the time, the two then went to Wal-Mart, and again tried to meet Simmons at his house. Still, no one was home. By this time it was nearly 10 in the evening, August 12, 1996. Again, they returned to the hotel. Near midnight, Wolfe received a phone call while Leaser stood outside smoking a cigarette. Wolfe hung up the phone, gathered Leaser, and left the hotel headed toward Simmons's house. 
Upon arriving at the house, they found Simmons sitting on the front porch. The three began talking, and Simmons offered them some marijuana. Leaser and Simmons smoked a marijuana cigarette, but Wolfe refrained. Milano drove up as they finished the marijuana. Simmons was related to the Milanos by marriage; Simmons married their sister, Lori, but that marriage ended in divorce. Simmons offered his guests a beer, and all four adjourned to the kitchen and living room area. Simmons walked into the kitchen to get a beer while Leaser sat down at a table in the living room to roll another marijuana cigarette. 
Leaser heard Wolfe and Milano chatting in the doorway separating the kitchen and living room. Wolfe mentioned the money he was owed. Apparently, Simmons and Milano owed Wolfe between twelve and twenty thousand dollars. They did not have the money, nor did they have the drugs. Simmons returned from the kitchen while Wolfe and Milano discussed this predicament. Leaser testified that she heard gunshots and saw Wolfe fall to the ground. Immediately thereafter, Simmons grabbed Leaser and ordered her not to look in the direction of Wolfe's body. Leaser noticed Milano standing directly behind Wolfe holding what was later identified as ... a .22 caliber rifle. 
Simmons took her to a back bedroom of the house and forced her to lie face down on the floor. He placed himself on top of her and began questioning her, asking whether she or Wolfe were law enforcement officers, whether Wolfe had any drugs with him, and who knew they were in Mississippi. She became understandably hysterical and simply responded that she did not know anything, as she and Wolfe had only become acquainted a few weeks ago. After Simmons finished questioning Leaser, he tied her hands behind her back, bound them to her feet with some rope, and locked her in a metal box with dimensions similar to a large footlocker near his bedroom, telling her he was "on a time frame" that he could not "mess up." 
Leaser managed to untie her hands and feet and began kicking the top of the box unsuccessfully trying to get out. Leaser continued kicking the top of the box until Simmons returned. He removed her from the box, stripped her nude, tied her up again and returned her to the box. Again, Leaser managed to free herself from the knotted ropes, but remained unable to get the top off of the metal box holding her. After some length of time had passed, Simmons returned to the box and took Leaser out. Simmons was undressed. He again forced her to lie face down on the floor of the bedroom. Leaser was in the middle of her menstrual cycle, so Simmons forced her to remove her tampon. He then raped her, telling her that her life depended on how well she performed sexually. Leaser testified that she thought he was holding a pistol to the back of her head during the assault. 
Afterward, Simmons asked Milano if he would like to rape her as well; Milano declined. Simmons then took Leaser to the bathroom, allowed her to clean up with an athletic sock; and yet again, tied her up and locked her in the box. 
While Leaser was secured in the box, Simmons and Milano went about their plan to dispose of Wolfe's body. Simmons, by trade, was a butcher in a meat market. Simmons's co-worker, Charles Jenkins, testified that during the preceding workweek, Simmons sharpened all of his knives and took them home from work for the weekend. Jenkins testified that this was rather unusual because everyone normally leaves their knives at work. Apparently, the only time that Jenkins could remember anyone taking their knives home was before leaving on an extended vacation or quitting the job. Simmons took those knives and began dismembering Wolfe in the bathtub. After gutting him and severing his head and limbs, Simmons, with Milano's help, began distributing Wolfe's remains into the bayou that ran behind Simmons's property using a boat Simmons borrowed from neighbor Donald Taylor only hours before. Alligators were known to inhabit the area. The bayou had a running current that eventually, through tributaries, fed into the Gulf of Mexico. 
Leaser, still locked in the box, again untied herself. Simmons returned to the box smoking marijuana and offered some to Leaser. She accepted. After sharing the marijuana cigarette, Simmons locked Leaser in the box with a blanket, where she fell asleep. She awoke to the sound of the telephone ringing. When no one answered it, Leaser reasoned that the house was empty. She mustered all of her energy and began banging on the top of the box. The lid popped off and Leaser managed to get out of the house. On her way out of the door, she grabbed a bag with some of her clothes and belongings in it. She then partially dressed herself. Leaser ran to a neighbor's house and convinced the neighbor to call the police. Upon their arrival, Leaser recounted the events of the previous twenty-four hours. 
Many different law enforcement agencies were involved in investigating the scene of the crime. Leaser told police officers that Wolfe was inside, had been shot, and that she had been raped. Once the police arrived, they began to secure the area and investigate Leaser's claims. Moss Point police officers Lee Merrill and Richard Cushman entered the house with Leaser to determine if a crime had, in fact, been committed and if so, whether other victims were still in the house. Once the police officers saw blood and other evidence of violent crimes, they left the house and secured a search warrant. 
After obtaining a search warrant, the police called the Mississippi Crime Lab, and they entered the house to gather evidence. From inside the house, they collected portions of fingernails from a wastebasket, a used condom, and two used tampons, among other things. The local police department also recovered a Marlin model # 60 .22 caliber rifle, eight empty .22 caliber shell casings, and Wolfe and Leaser's personal items originally left in their hotel room. 
Near the rear of the property, a small "jon boat" was spotted near the water. Officers Magee and Graff investigated and requested that Officer Cushman join them. Near the boat they found four five gallon white buckets, one green plastic barrel, a one gallon bottle of Clorox bleach, a brush, a knife, and a bushhook. The brush and bushhook appeared to be covered in blood. An aluminum boat paddle was covered in bloody finger prints. In the boat, the officers discovered a piece of flesh. The local coroner called Dr. Paul McGarry to help with the investigation. Outside the house, but still on or very near Simmons's property, Dr. McGarry found the rest of Wolfe's body. Dr. McGarry testified that he and a group of police officers floated approximately two hundred yards down the bayou over which they found various parts of the skin, muscle, chest, abdominal walls, penis and testicles, lungs, heart, intestines, liver, as well as fingers and toes from a young human white male. 
Dr. McGarry testified that the body parts had been cut sharply and with precision into block like sections of tissue. Most of the bones had been separated. Of the flesh he found and examined, several pieces had bullet holes in them. One portion of the chest had five bullet holes in it while another portion revealed one bullet hole. Some of the internal organs, the heart and lungs specifically, also had bullet holes in them. The left lung had a bullet lodged in it. Dr. McGarry testified that these gunshot wounds were the cause of death. 
A further search of the area revealed Wolfe's severed head, upper chest portion, and pelvic area sans reproductive organs. Over two days of searching, they found, on the first day, eighty-five pounds of human remains the largest of which was seventeen inches in diameter. The following day, they collected forty-one pounds of similar pieces, with the largest piece measuring nineteen inches. Some pieces found later were large enough to have identifiable tatoos. All of the flesh was identified as belonging to Wolfe. 
Simmons left his house after dismembering and disposing of Wolfe. He drove to Mobile, Alabama, where he made a videotape for his ex-wife and children. Throughout the video recording, Simmons spoke to his family in the most general terms about what he had done, although he never specifically admitted committing any crimes. Simmons mailed the video cassette to his wife and drove back to the Coast. Upon arriving at his house, Simmons noticed that Leaser had escaped. He immediately left again and went to see his friend Dennis Guess. 
Guess testified that while they were conversing, Simmons volunteered that he had just "whacked a drug dealer,... deboned him, cut him up in little pieces, and put him in the bayou." Simmons told Guess that he used a butcher knife and bolt cutters to accomplish the task. Simmons also told Guess that he had a girl in a box and planned to "train her" and "keep her around as a sex toy," but confessed that she had escaped. The conversation then turned to what realistic options Simmons had left. Simmons, after further discourse with Guess on this subject, decided against fleeing the jurisdiction or committing suicide. He eventually decided to turn himself in to the authorities.
I oppose the execution of any person who might be innocent of the crime for which they are scheduled to be executed. In all other cases, I neither oppose nor support the execution. I simply stand mute.

Since I find no evidence that Gary Simmons did not participate in the murder of Jeffery Wolfe, I stand mute with respect to the propriety of his execution.

Gary Simmons was executed by the people of Mississippi on June 20, 2012.

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