The Mississippi Coast is the state’s “death penalty hotspot,” according to numbers compiled for a death-penalty brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Hancock County killer Timothy Nelson Evans.
“He had the misfortune to commit his crime in the Second Circuit Court District of Mississippi, comprising three counties — Hancock, Harrison and Stone — on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, where the death penalty is fairly routinely sought in such murders,” attorney Alison Steiner of the State Public Defenders Office in Jackson writes in request for Supreme Court review.
The homicide rate is “dramatically higher” in Hinds County, but from 1976-2017, the death penalty was imposed more often on the Coast: 36 times compared to 26 in Hinds.
Steiner argues the high court should consider Evans’ case because Coast prosecutors are seeking the death penalty more often than prosecutors do in other court districts, making Nelson’s death sentence “arbitrary.”
She also incorporates arguments against the death penalty as “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.
The request for Supreme Court review lays out the details of Evans’ case.
He is a lifelong alcoholic. When he was released from prison for felony DUI, former girlfriend Wenda Holling allowed him to move into her trailer in Kiln. Evans was unable to hold down a job because of his drinking, so he looked to Holling for money.
She tired of supporting him while he drank. When she threatened to cut him off, the day after New Year’s 2010, he strangled her to death. Evans put her body in the trunk of her car and dumped it in Harrison County, where it was discovered several weeks later.
Her family reported her missing. Evans told police that Holling was visiting friends in Florida. Then he took off for Florida in her car. He was using Hollings credit cards for food, drink and gas.
When police discovered the credit-car use, Evans was arrested and admitted killing Holling.
Evans drew one of 25 death sentences imposed in Mississippi since 2000, with one-third of those sentences meted out in the Second District.
“Indeed,” Steiner argues, “the Second District’s absolute ‘lead’ in the number of death sentences its prosecutors have elected to seek has grown even larger as more and more prosecutors in other circuit court districts have exercised their discretion and elected not to seek such sentences even when they are available.”
Joel Smith, district attorney for the Second District, could not be reached to comment. This story will be updated if and when he responds to a message from the Sun Herald.