Capital punishment in Mississippi

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Mississippi State Penitentiary, the location of the death row for men and the execution chamber

Capital punishment in Mississippi is legal and practiced by lethal injection. Currently executions occur at the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) Mississippi State Penitentiary (MSP) in Sunflower County, Mississippi.[1] Men on death row are held at Unit 29 in MSP, while women on death row are held at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) in Rankin County, Mississippi.[2]


The State of Mississippi used hanging as its method of execution for much of its history.[1] From the earliest recorded execution in 1818 through 2004, records indicate that the state executed a total of 794 people. Of these, the great majority were black males, who account for 639 of recorded executions.[3]

Around the time of the 1901 opening of the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman Farm), Sunflower County residents objected to having executions performed at MSP because they feared that Sunflower County would be stigmatized as a "death county." Therefore the State of Mississippi originally performed executions of condemned criminals in their counties of conviction.[3] When, in 1940, Mississippi's state legislature decided to change the state's method of execution to electrocution, while continuing to conduct executions in the county of conviction, a portable electric chair was developed and fabricated for the state's use.[3] On October 11, 1940, the state's first execution of a condemned prisoner by electrocution occurred; Hilton Fortenberry was electrocuted in his county of conviction, Jefferson Davis County. The state moved the electric chair from county to county, using it to kill condemned prisoners in their counties of conviction.[1] Mississippi and Louisiana were the only U.S. states to use a portable electric chairs.[3]

Around the 1950s residents of Sunflower County were still opposed to the concept of housing the execution chamber at MSP. In September 1954, Governor Hugh L. White called for a special session of the Mississippi Legislature to discuss the application of the death penalty.[3] During that year, a gas chamber serving as an execution chamber was installed at MSP. The gas chamber replaced the portable electric chair which, between 1940 and February 5, 1952, had been moved from county to county to execute condemned prisoners. The first person to die in the gas chamber was Gearald A. Gallego, who was executed on March 3, 1955.[4]

On July 1, 1984 the Legislature of Mississippi amended §§ 99-19-51 of the Mississippi Code; the new amendment stated that prisoners who committed capital crimes after July 1, 1984 would be executed by lethal injection.[4] When the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) opened in January 1986, all women who were incarcerated at MSP were moved to CMCF.[5] The $41 million Unit 32, the state's designated location for male death row inmates, opened in August 1990.[2][6] Previously Unit 17 housed Parchman's male death row.[7] On March 18, 1998 the legislature made another amendment, removing the gas chamber as a method of execution.[4] The lethal injection table was first used in 2002.[3]

Since 1976, Mississippi has executed fewer prisoners than six other southern states despite comparable homicide rates. As of March 2013, 21 inmates were executed after 1976.[8] One critic claims that this stems from the inability of poorer counties to afford legal fees for defendants accused of capital crimes.[9] Because death penalty cases are subject to a high standard of review—and there is a constitutional requirement for effective assistance of counsel as a matter of Due process of law and subsequent appellate review—this has led to a practical and constitutional impediment to its efficient operations.[9]

Execution procedure[edit]

The condemned prisoner is moved into a holding cell adjacent to the execution room in Unit 17, the location of the execution chamber, in the Mississippi State Penitentiary from his or her death row unit by 48 hours prior to the execution. The state places the Mississippi State Penitentiary on emergency lockdown status 24 hours before the execution. At 12:00 PM a media center at Parchman opens. At 3:00 PM the condemned's attorney of record and chaplain are permitted to visit him or her. At 4:00 PM the prisoner received his or her last meal; he or she may shower at that time. At 4:30 PM, if the condemned desires, MDOC clergy may visit him or her. At 5:30 witnesses to the execution are transported to Unit 17. At 6:00 PM officials move the condemned from the holding cell to the execution chamber. At the same time the witnesses enter the designated observation areas. At 7:00 PM the state conducts a post-execution briefing with media witnesses. At 8:30 PM the state closes its media center.[10]

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Media Kit Joseph D. Burns." Mississippi Department of Corrections. 5/8. Retrieved on November 6, 2010.
  2. ^ a b "State Prisons." Mississippi Department of Corrections. Retrieved on January 14, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Cabana, Donald A. "The History of Capital Punishment in Mississippi: An Overview." Mississippi History Now. Mississippi Historical Society. Retrieved on August 16, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c "Mississippi and the Death Penalty." Mississippi Department of Corrections. Retrieved on August 12, 2010.
  5. ^ "A Brief History of the Mississippi Department of Corrections." Mississippi Department of Corrections. Retrieved on July 21, 2010.
  6. ^ "Prison won't cure overcrowding." The Advocate. September 18, 1990. Retrieved on August 9, 2010. "Hard-core Mississippi prisoners will be housed in a $41 million prison complex that opened last month, but the facility won't come close to providing room for all state inmates, officials say. The complex, called Unit 32, adds more than 15 times the current maximum-security bed space, but it's still not enough."
  7. ^ Straziuso, Jason. "Miss. prepares chamber for 1st execution since '89." The Advocate. July 14, 2002. News 10B. Retrieved on August 13, 2010. "The execution chamber is lodged in the back of Unit 17 on the Parchman campus. The unit once housed all death row inmates, but its 56 beds are no longer"
  8. ^ Halperin, Rick. "Execution Statistics Summary -- State and Year". Southern Methodist University. Retrieved 6 April 2013. 
  9. ^ a b Mitchell, Charlie (November 6, 2005). "Death penalty getting costly in Mississippi: Counties having to foot high bills for defense attorneys". Clarion-Ledger. Retrieved 2010-11-11. 
  10. ^ "Media Kit Joseph D. Burns." (Archive) Mississippi Department of Corrections. 4/8. Retrieved on November 6, 2010.

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