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franklin county times

Enterprise family awaits execution of Lauderdale County man

By Staff
EXECUTION CHAMBER Witnesses of today's scheduled execution of Tracy Alan Hansen will sit behind two-way mirrored windows outside the lethal injection room at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman. The lethal injection execution is the first of its kind in the state and the execution is the first since 1989. AP
By William F. West / community editor
July 17, 2002
More than 12 years after his mother was stabbed to death in Meridian, Douglas Brown of Enterprise is still waiting for the execution of the man convicted of murdering her.
The man, Ronnie Lee Conner, 43, remains on death row at the state Penitentiary at Parchman.
He was convicted in July 1990 for the New Year's Day 1990 slaying of Celeste Brown, 72. A Lauderdale County Circuit Court jury sentenced him to death by lethal injection.
Brown, 59, said he thought the standard procedure in the nation was swift and just punishment after the accused was tried and convicted before a jury of his peers.
Conner is one of 66 inmates sentenced to death in Mississippi.
Records from the Mississippi Department of Corrections and the state Supreme Court show that Conner is the only death row inmate from Lauderdale County.
The killing
Celeste Brown went to the Amtrak station on New Year's Day 1990 to pick up a friend.
Conner was charged with approaching Brown outside the station, abducting her, stabbing her and robbing her of money and a ring.
The prosecution at trial in Circuit Court called more than 20 witnesses, including one who swore seeing Conner approach Brown at the station and leaving with her in her car.
Brown was found slumped in her car on the outskirts of the city. Witness testimony included that Conner had boasted of killing someone.
Conner's defense attempted to counter with a half-dozen alibi witnesses that said they didn't see him stab anyone. His family today still believes he isn't guilty.
Conner appeals
Ida Conner and other family members assert Ronnie Conner was convicted on circumstantial evidence and on the word of witnesses who were not credible. They said he also was hampered by inexperienced legal counsel.
The family maintains Ronnie Conner has mental problems even though experts with the state hospital at Whitfield concluded he was competent to assist in his own defense.
Conner, after being convicted, spent most of the 1990s unsuccessfully appealing to the state Supreme Court. Last year, U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate turned back Conner's appeals.
Conner appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
Last month, Mississippi Assistant Attorney General Marvin White filed the state's legal arguments with the 5th Circuit. And on Monday, Conner was granted a July 31 deadline to file a rebuttal.
Mother remembers
Ida Conner said she has not visited her son in a long time.
Gloria Alford, 38, one of Ronnie Conner's sisters, said her brother "never caused any trouble, no problems."
Solid case
But White, who handles death penalty cases for the state Attorney General's Office, believes the state has "a solid case." White, 56, has worked for the Attorney General's Office for nearly 25 years.
And Bilbo Mitchell, in his 15th year as Lauderdale County district attorney, stands behind the case and the punishment imposed. Mitchell's office prosecuted the case.
Douglas Brown said he has followed developments leading up to today's planned execution of Tracy Allen Hansen, who was convicted of killing a state trooper in 1987.
Hansen's execution would be the state's first since 1989.
Brown said the Conner case calls out for reforms in the judicial system. Said Brown: "I think they should limit your appeals. I mean how many appeals do you get? Forever?"
On Tuesday, Brown remembered his mother, who was a Methodist and the wife of a farmer and cattleman in the town of about 400 people just south of Meridian.