Many more Tracy Hansens waiting on death row

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, July 24, 2002

PARCHMAN — Mississippi’s death row is crowded.

After the execution of Tracy Alan Hansen last week, the state’sfirst by lethal injection, 66 inmates remain on death row at thestate prison.

One, William J. Mitchell of Harrison County, has been theresince 1975.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Earl Berry has been on death row since being sentenced inChickasaw County in 1980.

Two — James Billiott of Harrison County and Howard Monte Neal– have been there since 1982.

There is a lot of interest in Neal’s case in this area. Althoughhe was convicted in Lamar County, Neal’s Lawrence County crimespree left three people dead. He was convicted of killing hisniece, 13-year-old Amanda Joy Neal. Also shot to death were MelanieSue Polk, 12, and Neal’s half brother, Bobby Clifford Neal, 41.

Howard Neal’s chances of further appeals — and further delay ofhis death sentence — could be running out. An appeal to the U.S.Supreme Court to review his case was filed in June. The court couldpossibly rule in October.

Howard Neal, now 48, has spent much of his life on deathrow.

Two other state inmates are also nearing the end of the appealprocess. Jessie Derrel Williams, 51, was convicted for the kidnapand murder of Karen Ann Pierce on Jan. 12, 1983. Her throat wasslashed and her body mutilated, left in the woods to be found by ahunter.

Williams now has an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court. Thecase could possible be heard next month, the earliest ruling wouldcome in October.

Ronald Chris Foster, 30, has been on death row since 1991 forthe murder of convenience store clerk Danny Shelton in LowndesCounty in 1989. Foster recently lost an appeal to the 5th U.S.Circuit Court of Appeals, and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Courtis expected soon.

The Hansen execution has put new focus on capital punishment inMississippi. The last execution in the state was 13 years ago whenLeo Edwards was put to death in the gas chamber.

Protesters at Parchman last week said they didn’t wantMississippi to become the next Texas, which has executed 138inmates in the past 10 years.

As one of the eight media witnesses to Hansen’s execution, itwas my responsibility to report what I saw. Since Wednesday, I’vebeen asked numerous times, “didn’t it bother you?”

Yes and no.

Tracy Alan Hansen died peacefully, in his sleep. There wasnothing grotesque about it. His death sentence was carried outlawfully by the state of Mississippi, and he had 15 years toprepare for it.

It bothers me that a relatively smart 39-year-old man spent mostof his adult life behind bars and landed on death row for doingsomething stupid.

It bothered me as I stood in the witness observation room nextto Damon and Brandon Ladner, and it bothers me now, that they willnever see their father again. It bothers me that Highway PatrolmanBruce Ladner won’t get to see what handsome young men his two boyshave become.

Attorney General Mike Moore told reporters Wednesday night thatswiftly carrying out death sentences is probably the best way todeter murders.

I think he’s right.

Write to Nanette Laster at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, Miss.39601, or send e-mail to