The information on this page provides a brief overview of capital clemency in Mississippi and is not intended to serve as the basis for a capital clemency petition or campaign. For additional information, please see the full Mississippi Clemency Memo prepared by the ABA Capital Clemency Resource Initiative:
Article 5 of the Mississippi Constitution provides, “In all criminal and penal cases, excepting those of treason and impeachment, the Governor shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons.”
The Decision Maker(s)
The power to grant capital clemency lies solely with the governor. If the governor receives an application that he or she believes merits further inquiry, the governor can then refer the application to the State Parole Board (“Board’) to conduct an investigation. Following such an investigation, the Board may issue the governor a non-binding recommendation for action on the petition. Despite this process being in place, Mississippi practitioners are unaware of a governor ever using the Board in reviewing a capital clemency petition.
The state Parole Board is composed of five members, appointed by the Governor with consent from the Senate. (Miss. Code. Ann. § 47-7-5(1) (2019).).
How Petitions are Brought
Mississippi does not require an official clemency petition form or format to be used by applicants, and there are no guidelines on the Governor’s website regarding what sort of information a capital clemency petition should include.
Although there are no formal rules governing the content of the clemency petition, the petitioner should expect to specify the extenuating circumstances which support the basis of the petition. Petitions may include letters of recommendation in support of the request from sources such as neighbors, employers, co-workers, pastors, church members, elected officials, judges, prosecutors, and family members. Petitioners have been encouraged to contact the Legal Division at the Office of the Governor for additional information.
As discussed, the governor may choose to refer an application to the Board to conduct an investigation and/or hold a hearing on an application for executive clemency. As noted above, however, this process has not yet been utilized in a Mississippi capital clemency case. Instead, representatives of petitioners have met with the governor’s legal counsel or chief of staff regarding pending clemency petitions. It is unclear what process of review is followed within the governor’s office following these meetings. Additionally, it is unclear what specific roles or what influence these aides to the governor will have on the governor’s ultimate decision to grant or deny clemency, though it is likely that their review of the case and recommendation(s) will be factored into the governor’s decision.
Responding to a Petition
There is no constitutional or statutory requirement for the governor’s office to respond to a clemency petition, but the governor’s office typically sends a letter to petitioner’s counsel stating whether clemency is granted or denied prior to the execution date.
Current Clemency Decision Maker
Republican Phil Bryant is currently serving his second term as governor of Mississippi. He was first elected in 2011 and then re-elected in 2015. He was sworn in for his second term on January 12, 2016.
Prior to being elected governor, Mr. Bryant served as Lieutenant Governor from 2008 to 2011. Bryant was Mississippi Auditor from 1996 to 2007. He served five years in the Mississippi House of Representatives (1990-1995) and was Vice Chairman of the Insurance Committee.
Notably, Governor Bryant is a former deputy with the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department. In May 2015, the Clarion Ledger published a guest column by Governor Bryant titled “Criminal Class vs. Law Enforcement,” in which he expressed support for law enforcement officers and raised doubts about the existence of racism in policing and misuse of force, stating:
Now comes the narrative of law enforcement officers who allegedly profile based on race, even when the police officers are minorities and when the suspect has violated the law. The incidents can easily be avoided and lives saved. Simply put, if you don’t violate the law, disobey a police officer during an intervention and don’t resist arrest, your chances of being in conflict with an officer are non-existent.
In 2012, Governor Bryant also spoke out about the clemency process, arguing that the executive clemency power should be restricted by a constitutional amendment or other state legislation and that he would only grant clemency in cases of wrongful convictions: “My request is that we restrict to very narrow guidelines the ability to provide pardons or clemency . . . only for cases where there is clear and convincing evidence that someone has been wrongly convicted.”
Some have expressed the belief that Governor Bryant’s stated view on clemency was directly influenced by his predecessor Governor Haley Barbour’s act of granting pardons to 208 Mississippi felons, including five prisoners who had violent records, but worked at the governor’s mansion while serving their sentences.
Dale Leo Bishop was executed in 2008 for his role in the murder of a friend ten years earlier. At age 34, Bishop was the youngest person executed in Mississippi in two decades. Bishop’s clemency request stated that his life should be spared because he did not swing the hammer that killed the victim. The clemency petition also claimed that Bishop’s prior attorneys provided ineffective assistance of counsel and intentionally did not disclose his bipolar disorder. Another man admitted to striking the lethal blows, who was tried separately and was sentenced to life without parole. Despite his clemency pleas, media coverage, and local protests, Bishop was executed on July 23, 2008.
Current Newsworthy Case: Curtis Flowers
In June 2019, the Supreme Court overturned the Mississippi Supreme Court and reversed the death sentence of Curtis Flowers, who had been tried six separate times for the murder of four people at a furniture store. At issue was whether prosecutors unlawfully excluded Black people from the jury – something that the Mississippi Supreme Court found prosecutors had unlawfully done on one prior occasion. Two of Mr. Flowers’ prior convictions were reversed on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, and two of his trials resulted in mistrials. Across all six trials, prosecutors used a majority of their discretionary strikes to exclude Black jurors – something that the Supreme Court wrote informed their decision to overturn the conviction in this instance. Justice Kavanaugh wrote the opinion for seven members of the Court, noting:
Four critical facts, taken together, require reversal. First, in the six trials combined, the State employed its peremptory challenges to strike 41 of the 42 black prospective jurors that it could have struck—a statistic that the State acknowledged at oral argument in this Court.
At the Supreme Court’s direction, Mr. Flowers’ sentence has since been vacated by the Mississippi Supreme Court. The State is currently deciding whether to retry his case for a seventh time. Significant questions also exist about his guilt of the underlying offense, which have been explored in depth by the podcast In the Dark.
Click here to view Mississippi resources for download, including clemency petitions and other relevant practice materials. Please note that not all of the content will be visible to users who are not currently logged in or do not otherwise have practitioner-level access to the website.