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Who is David Neal Cox? What to know ahead of Mississippi’s first execution since 2012

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 David Neal Cox, 50, is set to be executed by the state of Mississippi Wednesday evening. It marks the first time Mississippi has carried out the death penalty since 2012.
Photo courtesy of Mississippi Department of Corrections

The state of Mississippi will execute convicted murderer David Neal Cox on Wednesday, marking the first execution in the state since 2012.

Cox’s execution date was set on Oct. 28 after multiple attempts by Cox to withdraw appeals and discontinue working with his attorneys at the Mississippi Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel over the past three years.

“I am worthy of death, and I do not wish to challenge the state of Mississippi any further,” Cox wrote in a letter to the court in 2018.

Cox's crimes and punishment

Cox, 50, murdered his wife, Kim Cox, and also raped his stepdaughter during a hostage situation in May 2010 in Sherman, Mississippi. Cox and his wife, who separated in 2009, also had two children together.

According to court documents, Cox was released from jail on bond in April 2010 after spending nine months in the Pontotoc County Jail for allegedly raping his stepdaughter once before. During his incarceration, he became enraged and promised to kill his wife once he was released — tracking her and the rest of his family down to a family member’s home she was staying in out of fear for their safety.

Cox broke into the home and held his wife and his stepdaughter hostage for more than eight hours. Kim Cox was shot twice during the incident and died from her wounds after Cox refused to let anyone enter or leave the house. He also sexually assaulted his stepdaughter three times while his wife bled out from his injuries.

At his trial, Cox pleaded guilty to eight charges, including capital murder, kidnapping, sexual battery and burglary. He was sentenced to death in 2012.

Legal battle to face execution

According to court documents, Cox first began communicating by mail with the Mississippi Supreme Court in August 2018 to waive his appeals and expedite his execution.

“I seek in earnest to waive all my appeals immediately. I seek to be executed as I do here this day stand on Mississippi death row a guilty man worthy of death. Please grant me this plea,” Cox wrote to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

A few days later, however, Cox’s attorneys with the Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel filed a motion, signed by Cox, to withdraw the letters to the court and continue the appeals process. In November 2018, Cox again filed a motion asking to waive his appeals and, for the first time, dismiss his attorneys, stating he was “of very sound mind and will.”

The state filed a motion in 2018 to set a competency hearing to evaluate his mental state. The hearing was conducted in February 2021, and Cox was determined to be mentally competent in his decision to waive his appeals.

“I am fully competent... I seek the relief of my victims’ families, of my children so they can sleep a peaceful night,” Cox told the court.

From July to September, Cox continued to file motions with the court to dismiss all appeals, to prohibit the Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel from filing more appeals and to dismiss all present and future attorneys.

His wish to face the death penalty was finally granted on Oct. 28 when the state Supreme Court set his execution date.

Executions in Mississippi

Cox will be executed at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman on Nov. 17 at 6 p.m. by lethal injection, just days before his 51st birthday.

Today, there are 37 people on the state’s death row, including one white woman, one Hispanic man, one Asian man, 20 Black men and 14 white men. Cox’s execution will the first in the state in nearly a decade, when, in 2012, the state executed six people in one year.

This summer, the Mississippi Department of Corrections revealed the state acquired lethal injection drugs amid a national shortage as pharmaceutical companies no longer want their drugs used in executions.

MDOC is currently undergoing a lawsuit with the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, who sued the department in 2015 on the basis that the state’s lethal injection protocol is inhumane. According to the lawsuit, Mississippi is one of the last remaining states to use three different drugs, including compounded drugs created in a pharmacy, to execute people.

According to Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center,  FDA-regulated pharmaceutical companies have adopted policies to forbid the sale of medicines to departments of corrections to use in executions.

“The states that have been willing to break the law have been able to get drugs to carry out executions,” Dunham told the Gulf States Newsroom. “[The drugs are] supposed to be for saving lives, prolonging lives, making lives better. They're not supposed to be used for non-medical purposes, and killing prisoners has never been an approved medical purpose.”

It is unclear how Mississippi obtained drugs for Cox’s execution. When asked by the Gulf States Newsroom how the drugs were obtained, the MDOC did not respond.

Dunham said some states have been known to surreptitiously obtain the drugs. In 2014, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections obtained execution drugs from a local hospital without disclosing that they intended to use the medicine in a lethal injection execution.

“There was a significant backlash because of that,” Dunham said.

This story was produced by the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration between Mississippi Public Broadcasting, WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama, WWNO in New Orleans and NPR.