Conviction 1982, Commuted to Life 2008 – present day
Howard was sentenced to death for the murder of his niece and
his half-brother. The only prosecution evidence was his
confession made after two days of interrogation. No lawyer was
present. The statement was not recorded, written down or signed.
Howard has an IQ of 54 and the approximate equivalent mental age
of an 8 year old. He claims that during his interrogation he was
intimidated and assaulted.
long wait and intimate searches I boarded a bus with other death
row inmate families. We passed small units encircled by massive
razor wire fences where prisoners in distinctive stripy trousers
hung around on yards or worked the land. Finally, we arrived at
unit 32-C, Death Row, Mississippi State Penitentiary, the
notorious ‘Parchman’, where Howard has been held for the past 26
years. As he shuffled into the visiting room, I hesitated, not
recognizing this stocky middle-aged man from the only photo I
had of him – his mug-shot taken 26 years earlier. As he stared
intently at me, I knew it must be him. With his ankles chained
together, and to the stool, and wrists chained to his waist, he
sat awkwardly behind the glass. He struggled to put his ear to
the phone, bending sideways to hold it in his chained-down hand.
He told me
about his traumatic childhood when his abusive father took his
dog and drowned it in the creek. At the age of 9 he was placed
in an institution for the “mentally retarded”, followed at 16 by
a spell in a state mental hospital. Despite this history and a
2002 ruling that “mentally retarded” prisoners should not be
executed the state of Mississippi required Howard to take more
intelligence tests. Unaware of the significance of these tests
Howard told me that he was determined to do his best, repeatedly
asking me if I thought he seemed retarded. In 2008, a year after
I met him, the state finally accepted his low IQ and commuted
his sentence to life without parole.
at Parchman but has finally left the 6’ x 9’ cell where for 26
years he spent 23½ hours a day. He is happier now he has a job
in the kitchens and can go out onto a bigger yard and, with his
simple Christian faith, he seems touchingly optimistic about the
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