Today’s Execution: Gary Simmons, Mississippi

From the Associated Press:

JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi is preparing to execute a grocery store butcher convicted of dismembering a man over a drug debt and raping a woman he locked in a metal box.

Gary Carl Simmons Jr. is scheduled for execution Wednesday in the 1996 killing of Jeffery Wolfe, whose body was found in pieces in a south Mississippi bayou in 1996. Simmons also was convicted of kidnapping and raping Wolfe’s female friend, who was 18 at the time, and sentenced to two life terms on those charges. The Associated Press does not generally identify the victims of sex crimes.

If Simmons is executed, he will become the sixth Mississippi inmate put to death this year. The Mississippi Supreme Court declined Thursday to delay the execution in a 6-2 decision. Simmons’ lawyers had requested a two-week delay, saying more time is needed for two mental health evaluations and an appeal based on their results. The court gave no explanation for its ruling.

Simmons and his former brother-in-law, Timothy Milano, were both convicted of killing Wolfe, who drove to Mississippi from Houston with the female acquaintance to collect a drug debt, according to court records.

This is how court records describe the killing:

Wolfe and his friend went to Simmons’ house in Jackson County on Aug. 12, 1996, to collect the debt — estimated at up to $20,000 — and planned to vacation in New Orleans before returning to Texas.

Wolfe, or someone acting on his behalf, had been delivering marijuana to Simmons on consignment and Milano would sell it. Wolfe would come later and pick up the money, but this time, Simmons and Milano didn’t have the cash or the drugs.

Milano shot Wolfe numerous times with a .22 caliber rifle inside Simmons’ home. Simmons tied up the woman and put her in a metal box described as similar to a footlocker. At some point, he took her out of the box and raped her, saying that “her life depended upon how well she performed sexually.”

Simmons put the woman back in the box and cut up Wolfe’s body in the bathtub. One of Simmons’ co-workers testified that Simmons had sharpened the knives he used at work and took them home for the weekend. Court records said those knives and a bolt cutter were used to dismember Wolfe.

“After gutting him and severing his head and limbs,” Simmons and Milano carried the pieces out in buckets and used a boat to dump them in the bayou behind the house.

Simmons left the house and drove to Mobile, Ala., where he made a videotape for his ex-wife and children and told them how he felt about them and what to do with his property. He didn’t admit to committing a crime. However, among his statements on the video was, “I didn’t think until after it was done. I can’t make it undone. I would have. Oh God, I would have,” according to court records. The tape is being kept private in evidence.

The next morning, the woman was still locked in the box and heard the phone ringing. When nobody answered it she assumed the house was empty, forced open the box and escaped to a neighbor’s house. Simmons drove up and saw the woman at his neighbor’s house, then fled. Police came and found bloody buckets at the house and body parts in the bayou. Dr. Paul McGarry later testified that “the body parts had been cut sharply and with precision into block-like sections of tissue.”

When Simmons realized the woman had escaped, he went to see a friend and told him that he “whacked a drug dealer … deboned him, cut him up in little pieces, and put him in the bayou.” He also said he had locked woman in a box and he planned to “keep her around as a sex toy,” but she had escaped, according to testimony.

Simmons, 49, has argued during appeals that his death sentence is disproportionate because it was Milano who killed Wolfe, and Milano didn’t receive a death sentence. During his trial, Milano blamed Simmons for the shooting. But court records show prosecutors believe Milano was the trigger man and Simmons planned the killing.

Simmons and Milano were tried separately. Simmons was convicted of capital murder, kidnapping and rape. He was sentenced to death for capital murder and to two life sentences, one each for kidnapping and rape, in August 1997.

Milano was sentenced to life for capital murder and 30 years for kidnaping, though he could also have been sentenced to death on the capital murder conviction. A rape charge was dismissed the morning his trial was to begin.

Harvey Barton, who represented Simmons during trial, said that even though Milano was the shooter, Simmons planned the killing, cut up the body and raped the woman.

“He was the ring leader,” Barton said.

Capital murder in Mississippi is defined as a killing that happens during the commission of another felony, in this case robbery.

Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence said the victim testified that only Simmons raped her and that juries can consider “heinous and cruel” as an aggravator when deciding on a sentence.

“I think that this case was especially heinous, atrocious and cruel, which can be seen in the manner in which the killing and rape were carried out,” Lawrence said.

Barton said Wolfe had a reputation as a dangerous man, including rumors he had killed someone before, and Simmons was afraid for his life because he didn’t have the money to pay the drug debt. Simmons tried to argue that it was self-defense.

“It was a kill or be killed situation” that quickly escalated, Barton said.

Barton said Simmons was remorseful and that he did the best he could in representing him, but the evidence was stacked against him. Barton said Simmons was willing to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but the district attorney at the time refused.

Holbrook Mohr wrote this report.

2012 Could See Most Mississippi Executions Since 1950s

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