View Full Version : Federal appeals court denies appeal by Miss. death row inmate

04-05-2005, 07:53 PM
From Rick Halperin
3rd April


Federal appeals court denies appeal by Miss. death row inmate

In Jackson, a federal appeals court has upheld a ruling denying death
inmate John B. Nixon Sr.'s claims that his attorney didn't do a good
and that his Rankin County jury shouldn't have been told about a
rape conviction.

Nixon appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans
after a federal judge in Jackson - in decisions between 1998 and 2002 -
denied Nixon's claims.

The 5th Circuit this past week ruled that Nixon's claim of ineffective
counsel involved only disagreement over courtroom strategy. And the
appeals court said the evidence against Nixon was so overwhelming that
introduction of the rape conviction was a minor issue for consideration
the jury.

Nixon, a former Utica auto repairman, was convicted of capital murder
the Jan. 2, 1985, murder-for-hire of Virginia Tucker, 45, in her
home. Tucker's ex-husband, Elester Joseph Ponthieux of Raymond, is
a life sentence for hiring Nixon to kill her.

Virginia Tucker's husband, Thomas, was wounded and identified Nixon as

2 of Nixon's sons and a friend were also convicted in the killing.

Among the ineffective counsel issues raised by Nixon were that his
attorney presented an unprofessional closing argument during

Appeals Judge Edith H. Jones, writing for the 5th Circuit, said Nixon's
attorneys made the decision to plead for his life rather than rehash
evidence that convicted him at trial.

"As a strategic decision, this was not unreasonable," Jones wrote.

Jones said Nixon's sons were willing to testify against him and other
family members wouldn't testify for him.

"Contrary to Nixon's claim that this argument all but invited a death
sentence, defense counsel was merely acknowledging the jury's verdict
asking for mercy," Jones wrote.

According to court documents, Nixon had pleaded guilty to rape in 1958
Texas. At Nixon's trial, prosecutors were allowed to use the rape
conviction to support their seeking the death penalty.

Nixon argued the information on the rape conviction unfairly turned the
jury against him. Nixon said he probably would have gotten the same
sentence as Ponthieux except for the rape conviction.

The 5th Circuit said the two cases were different.

Jones said the evidence showed Nixon agreed to kill the Tuckers for
brought his two sons along with him, rejected the Tuckers' attempts to
him to leave them alone and wounded Thomas Tucker when he tried to

Jones said the jury heard only the barest details of the rape

"Nixon was the paid killer and the central character in the grisly
events," Jones wrote. "Nixon, moreover, was engaging in heartless,
calculated murder for hire and bringing his children into the criminal
enterprise as well; these facts qualitatively distinguish Nixon's guilt
from that of Ponthieux."

(source: Associated Press)