Stay of execution

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 27, 2011

Bobbie Jo Parker (left) posed with Carol Knight on her wedding day in 1980, when Bobbie Jo played the organ and sang. Photo provided

Next step unknown after 5th Circuit halts execution

By Billy Davis

It was raining hard, and it was cold, the February night in 1990 when Carol Knight and husband Bill were awakened with a phone call.

“We didn’t sleep the rest of the night,” Carol recalled, after she heard from a church friend that the Parker family had perished in a house fire.

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And the story got worse from there. More details kept coming hours later, until the gruesome murder of the Quitman County family — husband Carl and wife Bobbie Jo, and their two children — were known by all, rattling the community twenty years ago.

“I think we learned about what happened in tidbits. A little at a time,” recalled Knight, who said her family’s friendship with the Parkers extended beyond Grace Baptist Church in Clarksdale.

“Bobbie Jo was eight or 10 years older than me and she was very much a mentor,” explained Knight, who was married at 19 and appreciated Bobbie Jo’s maturity and knowledge.  

Knight, who grew up in Clarksdale, now lives in Batesville with her family.  

Knight said she couldn’t remember the funeral service for the Parkers but did recall attending the graveside service, when she feared some of the killers were still on the loose.

Robert Simon Jr. is one of the killers. Simon, 47, was set to die Tuesday for the murders of Carl and Bobbie Jo, and son Gregory, who was 12 — all of them shot to death inside their home.

The fourth family member, 9-year-old Charlotte, died of smoke inhalation, and Simon and accomplice Anthony Carr received a life sentence for her murder. Carr is also sitting on death row.  

But a last-minute stay of execution Tuesday postponed Simon’s death by lethal injection, four hours and twenty minutes before it was set to take place at the Miss. State Penitentiary at Parchman.

The court order, from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, did not include an opinion from the three-judge panel when it was released Tuesday.  

Attorneys for Simon had argued in court that the death row inmate hit his head in a fall in January, could not carry on a conversation with them in March, and hence was incompetent to be executed due to the injury.

Mississippi death row inmates must be well — physically and mentally — to be executed by the state.  

Judge Grady Jolly has said in recent days that medical records and other documents submitted by Simon’s attorneys “raise substantial questions” over whether Simon understands the crime and the scheduled execution.

Oxford attorney Tom Freeland, representing Simon, told The Clarion-Ledger this week the court had agreed to a hearing related to the head injury.

The Associated Press reported late Thursday that the appeals court has set a deadline of June 6 to hear briefs from Simon’s attorney and from Attorney General Jim Hood, whose office oversees death row matters, includes execution dates.

Hood had said the appeals court could schedule a hearing or order a medical examination, and “it could be a day or it could be three months.”

The court’s stay of execution was announced to reporters who had gathered at Parchman to witness the execution.

Suzanne Singletary, a spokesman for the Miss. Department of Corrections, quietly stepped from behind a podium and blue backdrop at 1:40 to tell reporters of the order from the Court of Appeals.   

Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps then stepped before the microphone at 1:59 p.m. to formally announce the stay.

There were few details to report, because the court’s opinion had not been released, but Epps announced that Simon was being returned to death row from a holding cell next to the execution chamber.

The commissioner also described his visit with Simon earlier that day, when Epps asked Simon if he had killed the Parker family.

“He was jumping around and said he couldn’t remember, and he finally said, ‘If you all say that I did it, then I did it.’”

Epps then asked Simon if he would admit to killing and sexually assaulting the 9-year-old girl, Charlotte.

“His whole body got real jittery. He was sobbing for a moment,” Epps recalled. Then Simon repeated the if-you-say-I-did-it line.

Citing the account of Parchman superintendent Emmitt Sparkman, Epps also reported that Simon hollered at the news of the stay.

“He started hollering and said, ‘They said I was a monster,’ then laid back on his bed,” Epps reported.

The commissioner did not address Simon’s mental status — the claim in the federal court appeal — though he did say Simon is doing push-ups and running in place in his cell.

For his last meal, Simon was set to eat fried chicken legs, pinto beans, cornbread, lemonade and cold watermelon.

“He talked to me for a good while,” Epps told reporters.

Carol Knight chose to keep any opinions of Simon’s planned execution to herself. But she recalled the execution date, May 24, also fell on her wedding anniversary.

Thirty-one years earlier, she explained, Bobbie Jo had played the organ at her wedding.

For an anniversary dinner, Carol said she and husband Bill agreed to stay home and eat a home-cooked meal. Carol cooked poppy seed chicken to mark the occasion.

The recipe came from Bobbie Jo Parker.