By JOEL McNEECE
Frederick Bell, of Pittsboro, is awaiting an execution date to be set by the Mississipi Supreme Court while his family continues to proclaim his innocence.
Attorney General Jim Hood petitioned the Mississippi Supreme Court to set Bell's execution for Dec. 29 after the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 29 declined to hear an appeal from Bell. The MS Supreme Court has yet to set an official date.
Bell, now 39, was convicted in 1993 and sentenced to death. If executed, Bell would be the first African-American male to die by lethal injection in the state of Mississippi.
“I am asking all of you who read this to help me,” said Tonja Glaspie of Pontotoc, Bell's sister. “If my brother dies, he will have lost the chance to prove his innocence. Every human being deserves that chance. If he is given a new trial, nothing will be lost.”
Glaspie has been working tirelessly to get her voice heard in an attempt to get Gov. Barbour's attention about the pending execution hoping to get it stopped before it is too late.
Bell and Anthony Joe Doss, of Derma, who is also on death row, were convicted of killing Bert Bell, no relation, on May 6, 1991, during an armed robbery of Sparks Stop-N-Shop in Grenada County.
Court documents said Bell and Doss, accompanied by Robert Kennedy James and Frank Coffey purchased beer and potato chips from the store clerk. The four exited the store, sitting at a nearby picnic table and talked. Planning to go to Memphis, Bell said that he needed money and that he was going to rob the store, showing the group a .22 caliber pistol.
Bell’s family claims he was in Memphis the entire time.
The prosecution said “Doss also had a gun, which turned out to be inoperable. Refusing to take part, James and Coffey departed the premises as the other two went back into the store. Minutes later, James and Coffey heard hollering accompanied by gunshots. When Bell and Doss caught up with the other two, they showed them items they had taken from the store, including a money bag, .38 caliber pistol and a box of bullets.”
“Because he did not want any witnesses, Bell then threatened to kill James. Coffey and Doss stepped in to prevent this. Both James and Coffey testified that Bell said he shot the clerk.
“Later that day, Bernard Gladney drove Bell, Doss, and Coffey to Memphis. On the way, Bell again stated that he wanted to kill James to prevent him from telling anyone about the murder,” according to the prosecution.
Bell was ultimately arrested in Memphis on another crime. Two guns were found in the house where he was arrested, a third was found in Gladney's vehicle. Officials said one of the recovered guns was the .38 caliber pistol stolen in the store robbery.
Leland H. Jones III represented Bell during both the trial and the direct appeal. During the trial, there was no direct testimony regarding what actually occurred inside the store. Bell maintained that he was in Memphis the day of the murder.
However, there were no witnesses to corroborate his alibi, court documents said. The Bell family disputes that.
Both James's sister and Coffey's girlfriend testified that they saw Bell with Coffey, Doss and James the day of the murder.
The store owner, James Shelby Sparks, testified that a .38 caliber pistol, a box of shells, and a money bag were taken from the store during the robbery. An autopsy revealed that Bert was shot several times. Ballistics tests showed that Bert was shot with the .38 and a smaller caliber gun, likely a .22 caliber.
Following the trial, on January 26, 1993, the jury found Bell guilty of capital murder and sentenced him to death. Doss also was sentenced to death.
Bell’s family continues to proclaim his innocence and maintains his attorneys let him down in the case.
“They didn’t do what they said they were going to do,” said Lonnie Bell of Pittsboro, Frederick Bell’s father.
The Bells cite poor investigation and failure to conduct proper DNA testing beforehand as reasons Frederick remains on death row.
According to Glas-pie, in Bell's case, “there was a potato chip bag and beer bottles outside the store that were not tested for DNA or fingerprints. Also, the cash register was tested for fingerprints and found two unknown fingerprints - none of which matched those of Bell.”
“The lawyer who represented Freddie at his trial had no capital trial experience,” Glaspie said. “He did not investigate the evidence that would have helped my brother.”
“By giving Freddie a new trial, he would have the chance in front of the law to prove his innocence,” Glaspie said. “Please do not let an innocent man be executed. Freddie is a good person, my brother, a son, a father, an uncle, and a loved one to many. Help me to give my brother the chance to show his innocence and open the doors of fair, impartial justice for others. Help us to help my brother before it is too late.”