- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The director of the Mississippi Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel is asking lawmakers for more money to hire staff.

Louwlynn Vanzetta Williams told The Clarion-Ledger (https://on.thec-l.com/1uVBss7) the legal office which handles appeals for indigent death row inmates has four attorneys handling 22 death row cases while others are farmed out to private lawyers.

The office is seeking an additional $459,204 next budget year from the general fund, which would be a 35 percent increase over the current budget of about $1.3 million.

The Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel, established by the Legislature in 2000, was designed to cut the appeal process to expedite death penalty cases.

Williams said over the years, the office has lost 13 staffers, who haven’t been replaced.

“We are getting an increased case load and our staffing level is well below that that is required by the American Bar Association for the handling of death penalty cases,” Williams said.

Williams said the office contracts out some cases because it doesn’t have attorneys available, and other cases are given to private attorneys because the office may have a conflict, such as representing a co-defendant.

The office came under criticism in the mid-2000s for its legal representation of death row inmates. In 2010, 15 death row inmates sued the state, arguing the office - and its then-director - failed to provide competent counsel during their appeals.

In 2011, the Mississippi Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit on procedural grounds. The court said it would consider individual post-conviction complaints if the inmates filed them.

In a successive case, the Supreme Court made clear that death row inmates have a right to an effective post-conviction defense.


Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, https://www.clarionledger.com

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