Monday, Mar. 19, 2012
Killer set to die Thursday
Coast man on death row since 1998 for slaying of woman
By ROBIN FITZGERALD - firstname.lastname@example.org
BILOXI -- A Coast man will be executed Thursday for the murder of a Biloxi store clerk who was beaten, strangled, sexually assaulted and still alive when she was run over with a car in 1995.
William “Jerry” Mitchell, 61, is scheduled to be the second killer put to death by lethal injection in a week at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.
Mitchell has been on death row since 1998, when a Harrison County jury found him guilty in the slaying of 38-year-old Patty Milliken. He was on parole for a previous murder when a Biloxi police officer found Milliken’s body, nude and mutilated, under the Popp’s Ferry Bridge on Nov. 22, 1995.
Milliken had lived in Gulfport a couple of years and was a cashier at a Majik Market on Popp’s Ferry Road. The mother of four disappeared from the store near the end of her shift.
Milliken had called her son to tell him she would be home in 15 minutes, and stepped outside the store to smoke a cigarette with Mitchell, court papers show. A few minutes later, a co-worker cut his finger and went outside to get Milliken to relieve him while he bandaged it.
Milliken had disappeared, but her purse, car keys and cigarettes were still in the store. Her co-worker reported her missing.
Officer Tim McKaig, now a detective, went looking for Mitchell that night to question him about the disappearance. There was no reason to believe she had been killed, and a camera crew from “Coast Justice,” a locally produced reality-based TV series aired on WXXV, was following police work.
McKaig testified he found Mitchell in the backyard at his father’s house on Croesus Street. “Before I could say anything,” McKaig said, “he said, ‘Who’s there?’ and I said, ‘Police. I just want to talk to you,’ and he ran.”
Mitchell sped off in his Pontiac Grand Am. Police saw his car at a U.S. 90 gas station, and he sped off again with five police cars pursuing him. His car crashed into a chain-link fence near the CSX railroad tracks and Caillavet Street. The “Coast Justice” crew filmed it.
Mitchell was on parole for the 1974 murder of Irene Edwards, also killed in Harrison County. He had stabbed her to death with two butcher knives when he was home from college one weekend.From missing to murdered
The morning after Milliken disappeared, a police officer who had heard of a missing woman stopped under the Popp’s Ferry Bridge to look for her. He found her body under the north end of the bridge.
Forensic examination would reveal she had been assaulted physically and sexually, then the top half of her body was run over repeatedly by a car.
Robert Burriss, a crime-scene technician then, said the crime scene ranks high on his list of the worst he ever saw.
“He used his car to run over her, back and forth, at least a dozen times,” Burriss said as he recalled finding blood in the back of the car, and blood and hair on the undercarriage of Mitchell’s car.
“Her body had very distinctive tire marks,” he said.
Tire casts from the scene matched the tread design and size on three of Mitchell’s tires.
In a videotape played at the trial, Mitchell said Milliken left the store willingly and they were going to have sex in the backseat of his car, but they argued and she slapped him and he hit her. He said he ordered her out of his car and that was the last time he saw her.
The jury took 50 minutes to find him guilty on July 23, 1998. The next day, the jury deliberated a little less than two hours and handed then-Judge Kosta Vlahos a death-sentence verdict.A 14-year wait for execution
A death sentence has an automatic appeal process that usually takes years to resolve. At the time, it had been nine years since the state executed a killer, in part over controversy involving the death penalty and the use of the gas chamber.
Mitchell became the state’s 63rd death row inmate in a logjam of executions delayed for reasons such as a nationwide ban on executions for several years. Executions resumed in 2002 after state lawmakers decided a lethal injection is a more humane form of death than gas.
Mitchell based one of his appeals on a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibits the execution of a mentally ill criminal. It’s considered cruel and unusual punishment.
His death sentence was upheld in 2004. The ruling said he had served in the military four years, attended college one semester, and was not deemed retarded by a clinical psychologist who interviewed him.Process has begun
The procedures to execute him have begun, with notifications of relatives and others, and obtaining drugs for the lethal-injection cocktail. The state changed its ingredients in 2011 because of a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental.
The injection that will take Mitchell’s life costs $11,400, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections. The cocktail is a mixture of pentobarbital, pavulon, potassium chloride and saline. One is an anesthetic, one stops breathing and another stops the heart.
Mitchell will be moved from death row Tuesday to a holding cell next to the execution room.
Parchman will be placed on lockdown Wednesday. Inmates won’t be allowed out of their cells unless there’s an emergency, said Suzanne Singletary, MDOC spokeswoman.
On Thursday, prison staff will inspect the gurney and syringes, prepare the drugs and fill the syringes. Mitchell’s family will be allowed to visit him between 1 and 3 p.m., just before a visit from his attorney and a chaplain. He also will be able to talk with his family by telephone.
Mitchell will receive his last meal at 4 p.m. and will be allowed to shower. A clergyman can then visit if Mitchell wishes.
Witnesses to the execution will be taken to Unit 17 at Parchman 30 minutes in advance. Mitchell will be taken to the execution room and strapped on the gurney about 5:45 p.m. Witnesses will be escorted into the observation room at 6 p.m.
An assistant will then insert intravenous lines into Mitchell’s arm. The executioner, who will be paid $500 plus expenses, will administer the drugs. Mitchell will die within minutes.
Several of Milliken’s family members plan to watch, but they are not willing to speak to reporters until after the execution, Singletary said.
Burriss, now retired, said he may ask police officials if he can accompany them to witness Mitchell’s execution.
“I want to know what he has to say,” Burriss said. “I’d like to know if he shows remorse and has accepted Jesus as his savior. I can’t say I’m really 100 percent for or against the death penalty, but if he falls in the category of not being able to be rehabilitated, I have no problem with the death penalty.”
Photo : William J. Mitchell’s mug shots after he was arrested in 1995 for the murder of Patty Milliken