Virginia inmate set to be executed Aug. 18

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RICHMOND — A Virginia inmate who was sentenced to death for raping and killing an elderly woman in 2001 is facing an August execution.

Jerry Terrell Jackson, 29, is scheduled to be executed Aug. 18 for the murder of 88-year-old Ruth Phillips of Williamsburg.

If Jackson chooses lethal injection over electrocution, he would be the first Virginia inmate executed under a new drug protocol that replaces the sedative sodium thiopental in the three-drug cocktail with pentobarbital.

A nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental forced many states to substitute pentobarbital, but some have questioned its use. Defense attorneys called for an investigation after a Georgia inmate executed last week using the new drug appeared to struggle during the lethal injection.

Courts have ruled that the change in drugs is not significant enough to postpone executions.

Virginia is one of few states that allow inmates a choice of execution methods. Jackson will not be asked to decide until 15 days before his scheduled execution, Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor said.

Attorneys for Jackson did not immediately respond to calls and emails seeking comment. They are likely to appeal Jackson’s case to the U.S. Supreme Court and ask Gov. Bob McDonnell to commute his sentence to life in prison.

“Justice will finally be carried out for the commonwealth and the family of Mrs. Ruth Phillips,” Attorney General’s Office spokesman Brian Gottstein said.

Jackson’s attorneys have argued that his trial attorneys failed to present evidence of his extreme abuse as a child, which could have convinced jurors to spare his life. A federal judge agreed and ordered a new sentencing hearing for Jackson last year, but the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals blocked that hearing on a technicality in April.

“I think it’s about time. I think it’s really overdue,” said Richard Phillips, Ruth Phillips‘ son, who found his mother dead after she failed to show up for church. “The law is the law, and if we don’t respect the law and stand by the law, what have we got? Nothing?”

Mr. Phillips said he does not plan to witness the execution.

“There have been times where you want to have vengeance, but that’s not my thing,” he said.

Ruth Phillips, a widow for 30 years, followed her son to Virginia from New Hampshire in the late 1990s. She worked as a seamstress making slip covers and draperies until her death, Mr. Phillips said.

Jackson admitted to police that he broke into Ruth Phillips‘ apartment on Aug. 26, 2001, and that he put a pillow over her face to try to make her pass out once she awoke and caught him rummaging through her purse. He told police he left in Phillips‘ car and used the $60 to buy marijuana. He said he had not intended to kill Phillips.

At trial, Jackson said he lied to police and that an accomplice smothered Phillips. He denied raping Phillips, but prosecutors presented pubic hairs matching Jackson’s DNA that were found around her body. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 2003.

Mr. Phillips said Jackson’s attorneys should not try to fight the execution. Once it has been determined that Jackson was guilty and that the conviction was appropriate, “that’s the time to hang it up,” he said. He encouraged them to be concerned not only with their client, but with the victims.

“If they were really thinking about compassion and justice, they would let it go,” he said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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