Tom Freeland, AKA NMC, wins appeal over Attorney General Jim Hood

A federal appeals panel ruled that Mississippi used an unfair process to evaluate the mental competency of death row inmate Robert Simon Jr. and ordered a federal judge to take another look at Simon’s case.

As a result of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel’s ruling, which was released Thursday, Simon will get an independent mental evaluation and a chance to argue in court his mental incompetence, Simon’s attorney, Tom Freeland of Oxford, said.

“We expect the District Court to allow time for an independent evaluation of what Robert’s condition is and to hold a hearing” on the results of the examination, Freeland said.

The attorney general’s office responded with affidavits from the two prison-selected experts.

The Mississippi court ruled Simon’s medical records showed no sign of impairment. A federal judge sided with the state in May 2011 decision. Simon appealed to the 5th Circuit.

The three-judge panel said it was difficult to view the process as fair when Simon was not allowed a mental evaluation from someone other than a prison expert. The panelists said they weren’t asserting that prisoners are entitled to experts to prove their incompetence, but that the procedure allowing only one side to present expert evaluations “violated fundamental fairness and due process.”

“The competency evaluation must at all times be a process that is fundamentally fair to the prisoner alleging his own incompetence, and the process Simon received did not meet that standard,” they said.

Attorney General Jim Hood was not immediately available for comment.

In May 2011, Hood said if Simon got a new mental evaluation based on the fall, Mississippi could expect more such claims from death row inmates.

“We’re going to see a rash of knot heads at Parchman,” Hood told The Associated Press. “We’ll have to put cameras into every cell on death row because they are all going to claim they fell and bumped their head.”