TIME Mississippi

Federal Judge Halts Executions in Mississippi

The state said it would appeal the decision

(JACKSON, Miss.) — A federal judge has temporarily blocked the state of Mississippi from carrying out executions.

U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate issued a temporary restraining order Tuesday in a case where three inmates have sued.

An online federal court docket reflects that Wingate has issued a restraining order, but no written copy is available. Jim Craig, a lawyer for two inmates, says the order was given verbally.

A spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Corrections says the state will appeal.

Prisoners say they face risks of excruciating pain during an execution, which violates the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The lawsuit says there’s no guarantee that Mississippi can mix a safe and effective anesthetic to knock out prisoners, and that prisoners could remain conscious during execution.

 

TIME Mississippi

Couple Accused of Trying to Join the Islamic State Denied Bail

The judge believed their desire to commit terrorism is "probably still there"

(OXFORD, Miss.) — A young Mississippi couple who are charged with attempting to join the Islamic State were ordered held without bail Tuesday, pending federal grand jury action on the charges.

Twenty-year-old Jaelyn Delshaun Young and 22-year-old Muhammad “Mo” Dakhlalla, who were arrested at a Mississippi airport just before boarding a flight with tickets bound for Istanbul, went before U.S. Magistrate Judge S. Allan Alexander in Oxford on Tuesday.

Alexander denied bail, saying that even though the pair have never been in trouble with the law and have relatives willing to oversee their home confinement, she believed their desire to commit terrorism is “probably still there.”

During the two-day hearing, prosecutors had urged Alexander to deny bail, citing statements Young and Dakhlalla made to undercover agents and handwritten farewell letters they left for their families saying they would never return.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Joyner likened them to Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, saying that like him, they could commit violence with knives, vehicles or homemade weapons.

“They don’t need a gun to do harm,” Joyner said. “They don’t need military training to do harm. What they need is a violent, extremist ideology, and that’s exactly what they have espoused.”

Alexander agreed that their apparent methodical planning overcame a recommendation by federal court personnel to allow pretrial release.

“It was a very calculated, step-by-step thing,” Alexander said of the planning that led the pair to the Golden Triangle Regional Airport Saturday morning. FBI agents arrested them there, filing criminal charges that both were attempting and conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist group, a federal crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

An FBI agent’s affidavit said both confessed their plans after their arrest. Defense attorneys declined to comment after the hearing, but told Alexander the material didn’t prove either had committed a crime.

The families of Young and Dakhlalla were still trying to come to grips with the accusations.

Dakhlalla’s family is “absolutely stunned” by his arrest, said Columbus lawyer Dennis Harmon, who represents the family. He said Tuesday they have been cooperating with the FBI.

Dakhlalla’s father, Oda H. Dakhlalla, is the longtime imam of the Islamic Center of Mississippi in Starkville, Harmon said, and has previously been reported to be a native of Bethlehem, in the West Bank. His New Jersey-born mother, Lisa Dakhlalla, has run a restaurant in Starkville and sold Middle Eastern food at farmers’ markets. Harmon said Dakhlalla is the youngest of three sons and was preparing to start graduate school at Mississippi State University.

Harmon said the FBI searched the Dakhlalla home over the weekend and that the family “did not expect this at all.”

The center is in a quiet, older neighborhood in Starkville and the Dakhlalla’s home, which sits across the street, is surrounded by high hedges. A sign stating “private property, no trespassing” greet visitors at the entranceway to the home.

When approached Tuesday by The Associated Press, Dakhlalla’s father referred all questions to the family’s attorney.

Court papers say both Young and Dakhlalla are U.S. citizens. Mississippi State University spokesman Sid Salter said records show Dakhlalla graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, while Starkville High School confirmed Tuesday that he graduated from there in 2011.

Salter said Young was enrolled until May as a sophomore chemistry major but has not enrolled for classes since. Young, originally from Vicksburg, Mississippi, was a 2013 honors graduate from Warren Central High School, The Vicksburg Post reported.

Young’s father, Leonce Young, is a 17-year veteran of the Vicksburg Police Department. He and his wife were present Tuesday for the hearing, but declined to speak to reporters afterward. In court, prosecutors said Jaelyn Young had been trying to convert her sister to Islam as well.

The government says FBI agents began interacting online with Young in May about her desire to travel to Syria to join the group. It says her Twitter page said the only thing keeping her from traveling to Syria was her need to earn money.

“I just want to be there,” she is quoted as saying. In later conversations peppered with Arabic phrases, she said she planned a “nikkah,” or Islamic marriage to Dakhlalla so they could travel without a chaperone under Islamic law.

In June, the first FBI agent referred Young to a second agent posing as an Islamic State facilitator. The charging document says Young asked the second agent for help crossing from Turkey to Syria, saying, “We don’t know Turkey at all very well (I haven’t even travelled outside U.S. before.)”

Young touted her skills in math and chemistry and said she and Dakhlalla wanted to be medics treating the injured. Later, the charge says, she told the second FBI agent Dakhlalla could help with the Islamic State’s Internet media, saying he “really wants to correct the falsehoods heard here” and the “U.S. media is all lies when regarding” the group, which she called by its preferred internal name, Dawlah.

Dakhlalla told the first FBI agent online in June that he was “good with computers, education and media” and that his father had approved his marriage to Young. In July, according to the charges, he said, “I am willing to fight” for the Islamic State group.

Young later told the FBI that she and Dakhlalla got married June 6. She also expressed a desire to “raise little Dawlah cubs.”

The FBI said Dakhlalla and Young both expressed impatience over getting passports and the charges say Dakhlalla paid $340 to expedite passport processing on July 1.

___

Associated Press writers Jack Elliott Jr. in Jackson and Chevel Johnson in New Orleans and photographer Rogelio Solis in Starkville contributed to this report.

TIME Mississippi

Mississippi Couple Charged With Trying to Join ISIS

They were stopped before they took a flight to Turkey

Two people from Mississippi appeared in federal court Monday after they were arrested over the weekend for attempting to join ISIS.

Jaelyn Delshaun Young, 19, and Muhammad Oda Dakhlalla, 22, were arrested Saturday at Golden Triangle Regional Airport, reports the Clarion Ledger. They were allegedly planning to get married in Turkey and then travel to Syria.

CBS reports that the couple, both former Mississippi State University students, wanted to work as medics for ISIS.

Young and Dakhlalla are both charged with attempting and conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist group. Their hearing will continue Tuesday.

TIME Mississippi

Gunshots Fired at Soldiers at a Mississippi Training Center

No injuries have been reported

(HATTIESBURG, Miss.) — Authorities are searching for two men who fired gunshots from a vehicle at soldiers at a military facility in Mississippi, though no injuries have been reported, a sheriff said Tuesday.

Perry County Sheriff Jimmy Dale Smith told WDAM-TV that the shots were fired just after noon. The soldiers were training at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center near Hattiesburg.

Smith said officers are searching for a two-door, red Ford Ranger with “broken arrow” written across the top. Authorities say they are looking for two white males who allegedly fired from the vehicle and fled in the vehicle.

Members of the Forrest County Sheriff’s Department and the Mississippi Forestry Commission are assisting in the search.

The giant military base south of Hattiesburg is hosting about 4,600 active-duty soldiers, National Guard and reservists from Texas and Mississippi in a summer training exercise.

This summer’s training focuses on the coordinated efforts of individual soldiers acting as a platoon, which can vary in size but normally boasts 30-plus members.

The exercises, called “Exportable Combat Training Capability,” began in mid-July and will continue through mid-August.

Camp Shelby officials also were hosting a field hearing Tuesday by the National Commission on the Future of the Army.

The commission is an independent, congressionally mandated panel directed to assess President Barack Obama’s recommendations for restructuring the Army’s active-duty and reserve component force structures.

TIME Mississippi

Asthmatic Man Dies After Being ‘Hogtied’ by Police at Concert

Tray Goode died 2 hours after being placed face down on a stretcher

A father died after being “hogtied” by Mississippi police inside an ambulance despite telling officers he was struggling to breathe, according to his family’s lawyer.

Troy Goode, 30, was taken to the hospital after attending a Widespread Panic concert with friends Saturday night at a showground south of Memphis, Tennessee.

The asthmatic died two hours after being placed face down on a stretcher in an incident captured on video by bystander.

“His face was buried in the mattress of the stretcher,” lawyer Tim Edwards told NBC News Monday. “There was a strap over the back of his head so he couldn’t…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Mississippi

Mississippi Senator Says State Flag ‘Should Be Put in A Museum’

Senate Luncheons Roger Wicker
Tom Williams—Getty Images Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., speaks at a news conference after the senate luncheons in the Capitol, Jan. 7, 2015.

After "reflection and prayer," the senator has reversed a Monday statement that the decision should be left to the will of the people

A Republican senator from Mississippi came out in favor of replacing the state’s flag Wednesday, saying, “After reflection and prayer, I now believe our state flag should be put in a museum.”

U.S. Senator Roger Wicker said in a public statement that while he previously did not see the Confederate flag in the upper left corner of the state flag as offensive, his opinions have changed in light of the recent public backlash after a shooting in a historically black church in Charleston, S.C. last week. “It is clearer and clearer to me that many of my fellow citizens feel differently and that our state flag increasingly portrays a false impression of our state to others,” Wicker said.

The statement marks a reversal from Wicker’s stance on Monday that he would leave the decision on Mississippi’s flag up to “the will of the people of Mississippi.” He is joined by House Speaker Philip Gunn, who called the state flag “a point of offense that needs to be removed.”

Read Next: Why Mississippi Is Unlikely to Redesign Its State Flag

 

TIME States

Why Mississippi Is Unlikely to Redesign Its State Flag

Unlike in South Carolina, the political will isn't there

As South Carolina officials have united behind a push to remove a Confederate flag that flies in the state capital, focus has shifted to the last state that includes the controversial banner in its flag: Mississippi.

In the last few days, several prominent Mississippi legislators have supported a redesigned flag without Confederate symbols after the shooting in Charleston, S.C. that left nine people dead at a storied black church. The alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, was seen in several photos following the shooting posing next to the Confederate States of America flag.

“I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed,” Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn said in a statement. “We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi’s flag.”

Others, including Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, have signaled they’d be open to changing it, while Lt. Governor Tate Reeves appears willing to let the people decide in a future referendum. Democratic State Senator Kenny Jones says he is marshaling bipartisan support to pre-file legislation that will be taken up when the legislature is in session in January and will ultimately need two-thirds of the legislature to sign any change into law.

“In 2001, the conversation centered around the flag being disrespectful and appalling to African-Americans, but at the same time it was about the heritage to the white community,” Jones says. “Now, the conversation is different. Now it’s about how this symbol represents hatred, violence and bigotry. Now it’s about what can we do to make our state more progressive but in a bipartisan way.”

But changing a symbol that has flown in Mississippi for more than a century is a far greater challenge than removing one flag at the South Carolina statehouse. For one, there is little political will within the Republican-dominated legislature to do so, says John Bruce, a University of Mississippi political science professor. “The dominant thread of ideology in the Republican party in the state is to pick up the flag, wave it and say, it’s state’s rights,” Bruce says. “Not to say that that’s everybody, but the tenor of the party will not find it particularly objectionable.”

While several states still include remnants of Confederate symbols in their state flags, Mississippi is unique. The primary symbol on the flag is a smaller version of the Confederate battle flag, which to many black Americans recalls an earlier era of slavery and discrimination, but to some white communities symbolizes Southern heritage. Originally designed in 1894, the Mississippi flag came under scrutiny in 2001 during a referendum led by the Mississippi Economic Council, the state’s chamber of commerce, which argued that it hurt tourism and businesses looking to relocate to the state.

“The great argument we made from a business perspective was that if you were trying to introduce a product, would you make something that made 38% of your market uncomfortable?” says Blake Wilson, CEO of the Mississippi Economic Council, referring to the black population in the state. “It was a no-brainer from our perspective, but we probably misjudged the ability for business to influence the general public. The people in Mississippi were not ready to take that step.”

Two-thirds of Mississippians backed the old flag over one that had been redesigned without any Confederate symbolism. Ole Miss’s Bruce says that the alternative flag was not particularly well liked and that many Mississippians saw no threat from businesses that may not want to set up shop because of the flag. “I think the mood was, We’re a poor, agrarian state anyway,” Bruce says. “You can’t hurt us.”

And there’s little to suggest that much has changed since then. Only a handful of Mississippi’s 174 state legislators have signaled that they’ll consider even debating a motion to change it. The state’s 97 Republican legislators will likely be opposed to any change, and there’s still one important hold-out: Republican Governor Phil Bryant, who essentially warned legislators on Tuesday not to attempt to override 2001’s referendum.

“A vast majority of Mississippians voted to keep the state’s flag, and I don’t believe the Mississippi Legislature will act to supersede the will of the people on this issue,” Bryant said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

Bruce, the Ole Miss professor, says that even with momentum in South Carolina and around the U.S. in support of removing that state’s Confederate flag, he believes there won’t be enough political support to change it in Mississippi, especially if the governor is opposed.

“We haven’t had the shock South Carolina has had,” Bruce says. “Changing the flag would likely take something that throws us into the national news with that symbol and that conversation that we can’t run away from.”

TIME Crime

Privately-Run Prisons Hold Inmates Longer, Study Finds

Prisoners are incarcerated 4% to 7% longer

Privately-run prisons in the U.S. have become an increasingly popular way for states to cut costs, but a recent study finds that inmates actually stay longer in private prisons than in state-run correctional facilities.

A study by Wisconsin School of Business assistant professor Anita Mukherjee found that inmates held in private prisons in Mississippi from 1996 to 2004 served 4% to 7% longer than inmates serving similar sentences in public prisons. Mukherjee’s study, which is currently under review, appears to be the first to compare time served between public and private prisons.

The U.S. private prison industry is thought to be worth $5 billion a year, with facilities increasingly used by cash-strapped states dealing with overcrowded public prisons. In Mississippi for example, whose 20,000-strong prison population gives it one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, about 40% of inmates are housed in private prisons.

While it makes financial sense for a private prison to hold inmates for as long as possible, Mukherjee says the main reason behind the trend is more complicated than a privately run facility merely attempting to lengthen an inmate’s stay.

Parole boards, rather than the prisons themselves, are the ones that decide whether a prisoner should be released early. Mukherjee argues that private prisons do whatever they can to cut costs, including hiring less experienced guards that work for less pay and have high turnover.

Those inexperienced guards may be more inclined to hand out violations to inmates, she says, which is often the easiest way to maintain authority. Mukherjee found that inmates in private prisons were 15% more likely to get an infraction. And it’s those violations that a parole board looks at when deciding whether to release an inmate early based on good behavior.

Mukherjee says that the inmates in private prisons she studied received more infractions than those in public prisons, even though the parole board is the same for all state prisons. “Because they know they can’t just keep inmates longer, private prisons may be focusing on making it cheaper,” Mukherjee says. “And there are unintended consequences from that.”

 

TIME remembrance

B.B. King Laid to Rest in Mississippi

The funeral was held in Indianola, Miss.

Blues legend B.B. King was mourned Saturday in Indianola, Miss., the small town where his career took off.

Fans lined up to view his open casket Friday at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, where King was laid out in a purple satin shirt and a floral tuxedo jacket, flanked by two black Gibson guitars, the New York Times reports. King died May 14 in Las Vegas, at the age of 89.

A letter from President Obama was read at the funeral Saturday, held in Bell Grove Missionary Baptist Church on B.B. King Road. “B.B. may be gone but that thrill will be with us forever,” Obama wrote. “And there’s going to be one killer blues session in heaven tonight.” Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant was also at the funeral.

King was born in a small town 18 miles away from Indianola, but long embraced it as his hometown, and the place where he got his start in music. There was a period in the 1960s and ’70s when King avoided Indianola, annoyed that he and his band were not allowed to eat at a local restaurant or stay in the motel when they passed through during the segregated 1960s. The White Citizens Council, the infamous segregationist group that opposed the Civil Rights movement, was founded in Indianola in the 1950s.

Some residents say the desire to embrace B.B. King helped energize the city to move past the racial stratification of the past. Throughout the 1980s, white and black residents worked together to plan annual “homecoming” shows, and a 1983 interracial cocktail party in King’s honor is remembered by many as a moment of racial healing for the community, the Times reports.

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