A federal appeals court has rejected arguments from Mississippi death row inmate Henry Curtis Jackson Jr., sentenced to die for the slayings of two nieces and two nephews.
The children, ages 2 to 5, were stabbed to death in Jackson's mother's home in Leflore County while she was at church on Nov. 1, 1990.
He also was convicted of stabbing his adult sister and another niece, who both survived.
Prosecutors said Jackson, who was 26 at the time, planned to steal his mother's safe and kill the victims when he went to the house that day asking for a cigarette and money.
The court record describes a horrific scene, including one point in which Jackson's sister tried to fight him off with an iron rod, but he allegedly grabbed a child and used the child as a shield.
Testimony at trial indicated that some of the commotion during the attacks woke a 5-year-old. Jackson called the girl to him, "told her that he loved her, stabbed her, and tossed her body to the floor," court records said.
Jackson turned himself in to the West Point Police Department on Nov. 5, 1990, and allegedly confessed that he cut the phone line before attacking his relatives.
He was convicted and sentenced to death on four counts of capital murder after a trial in September 1991. The trial was held in Copiah County after Jackson's defense attorney requested a change of venue.
On appeal, Jackson claimed he was denied his right to be present during all stages of the trial and confront the witnesses against him.
He also claimed the trial court made a mistake by not holding a hearing to determine if he was competent to waive his right to be present, and that his lawyer didn't handle the situation properly.
The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, however, ruled Thursday that Jackson asked to leave the court at certain times and was advised that he had the right to be present, but could waive that right and leave.
Court records say Jackson left the court on at least four occasions during his trial, including during the playing of his taped confession and during the testimony of the pathologist who examined the bodies of his nieces and nephews.
The 5th Circuit's ruling said that, prior to the times Jackson left the courtroom, his attorney discussed the possibility of Jackson leaving "during certain testimony that would be 'tough' for him to hear."
"The trial court explained that Jackson had the right to be present, but only Jackson could waive that right. Thereafter, each time Jackson chose to leave the courtroom, he either approached the bench and, outside the hearing of the jury, informed the court of his desire to leave or left of his own accord," the 5th Circuit said in its 17-page ruling.
The 5th Circuit also rejected Jackson's attempt to expand the issues in his appeal, including claims that he should have been allowed to choose the expert who did his mental evaluation.
The court said he was evaluated by a psychiatrist and a psychologist appointed by the court and was given money for a specialist of his choosing.
The 5th Circuit noted that after consulting with that doctor, Jackson "withdrew his insanity defense."
Jackson turns 47 today, according to state Department of Corrections records.