Death Sentence Vacated for Mississippi Killer

     (CN) – A Mississippi man who killed a pawn-shop owner because he didn’t follow “the Lord” should not have been sentenced to death, the state’s highest court ruled.
     In September 2009, Erik Wayne Hollie robbed gas-station attendant Lalit Patel with a knife after the two men had argued about religion one day earlier. Hollie grabbed a pack of cigarettes and drove away with $30 worth of gas.
     Two days after the robbery, Hollie walked into a pawn shop and murdered the owner, Denmon Ward. He took several handguns and left the store.
     Hollie turned himself in to police and confessed to both crimes, claiming he was “fed up with life,” and that “the Lord” had led him to kill the owner.
     “Take me out back and do me right and shoot me in the F—ing head,” Hollie said. “That’s all I want.”
     Before a competency hearing was held, he pleaded guilty to the robbery and the murder. The court accepted his plea without ruling on his mental status.
     At sentencing, Hollie mounted a defense. He told the jury, “I ask that you let the Lord deal with me and sentence me to death.”
     The jury complied with Hollie’s wishes, sentencing him to death for the murder and up to 50 years in prison for the robbery.
     Hollie did not appeal, but the Mississippi Supreme Court conducted its mandatory review of the death-penalty case.
     In a decision written by Chief Justice William Waller Jr., the court ruled that the trial court should have conducted a competency hearing.
     Therefore, the court vacated Hollie’s guilty pleas, convictions and sentences.
     Waller and his colleagues disagreed with the state’s position that Hollie had waived his right to a competency hearing due to his guilty plea.
     “Precedent does not support this position,” Waller wrote. “The United States Supreme Court has stated unequivocally that ‘it is contradictory to argue that a defendant may be incompetent, and yet knowingly or intelligently “waive” his right to have the court determine his capacity to stand trial.'”
     Presiding Justice Michael Randolph wrote a dissenting opinion.”Prior to the date the omnibus hearing was scheduled. Dr. Criss Lott determined Hollie was competent,” he said. “The trial court, the prosecutor, Hollie and Hollie’s attorneys were all made aware of Dr. Lott’s findings.”

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