It’s been almost four decades since 73-year-old Metairie resident Norma de Gruy Wells learned her sister had been found dead on a logging trail in northern Harrison County, Mississippi, after being kidnapped from her home in Gulfport.
To this day, Wells said, she can’t drive by any woods in Mississippi without thinking about the man who fired the fatal bullet into the back of Edwina Marter’s head.
Wells admits she isn’t sure if anything will ever help her get over losing her sister in such a violent manner. But she wonders if the execution of the man convicted of killing Marter — Richard Gerald Jordan, now 68 — might be a start.
Late last month, the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office asked the state’s Supreme Court to set an execution date for Jordan on or before Aug. 27. But Wells still isn’t confident Jordan will receive the punishment he was first sentenced to in 1976.
Jordan has been given the death penalty four separate times since his arrest and confession to the murder. He successfully challenged his punishment on three occasions, and he is now the longest-serving inmate on Mississippi’s death row.
Jordan, however, is now out of legal remedies, Mississippi prosecutors argue.
Lawyers with the MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans disagree. They say Jordan’s sentence should not be carried out because a drug Mississippi intends to use in the execution doesn’t comply with the state’s laws, among other reasons.
Wells is reluctant to share her opinion on the merits of either side’s arguments. She doesn’t want an impassioned remark from her to be the reason for another delay.
But she doesn’t mind describing in blunt terms what the past 39 years have been like.
“It breaks all of our hearts, all these years, that (Jordan) hasn’t left the picture,” Wells said through tears recently at a Metairie home where she was baby-sitting two grandchildren. “He’s in the picture. But she isn’t. He took her out.”
Edwina de Gruy grew up with her two sisters and one brother on Bonnabel Boulevard in Metairie, attending St. Catherine of Siena grammar school, Metairie High School and East Jefferson High School.
In 1958, shortly after getting her diploma from East Jefferson, she married Charles “Chuck” Marter and had two sons with him: Eric, now 49, and Kevin, 42.
The Marters lived in Metairie for a while before eventually moving to Gulfport, where her husband took a job as a bank executive.
Jordan, who lived in Hattiesburg, arrived in Gulfport intending to rob a bank because he was out of work and in debt, according to authorities. But the unemployed shipyard worker figured that was too risky, so he called Gulf National Bank and asked who oversaw commercial loans.
Chuck Marter, he was told.
Jordan looked up the Marters’ address in the phone book, drove there about 2 p.m. on Jan. 12, 1976, and got into the house by posing as an electric company employee.
Once inside, Jordan abducted Edwina Marter while the only other person there — her son Kevin, then 3 — slept upstairs.
Jordan made Marter drive into the DeSoto National Forest. As he would later tell it, he hoped to hold her for $25,000 ransom, police said.
But while in the woods, Marter tried to run away, Jordan said — so he drew a pistol and fired a bullet he said he believed would whiz over her head.
The bullet instead entered her skull, killing her.
Jordan waited a day and called Chuck Marter with the ransom demand, assuring him that his wife was alive and healthy. Marter himself dropped off the $25,000.
Police officers tried to arrest Jordan when he showed up to collect the ransom, but he briefly escaped before being captured at a roadblock.
He acknowledged killing Edwina Marter and directed police to her body as well as the murder weapon.
Eric Marter, who now lives in Lafayette with his wife, said nothing he’s experienced in life has been as painful as having his mother taken away from him when he was a preteen.
“Growing up without a mom, there’s things you don’t get,” said Marter, who has two sons, ages 14 and 18. “My dad did the best he could, but ... I haven’t experienced anything that hard since then.”
It’s still difficult for Chuck Marter — who is 78 — to talk about his former wife, Eric Marter said.
“It was not a topic of conversation with him, ever,” even though the pain he has always felt about losing Edwina has been clear to many, Eric Marter said.
Norma Wells has never forgotten how she was too shocked — too grief-stricken — to attend her sister’s funeral service at St. Catherine of Siena Church, she said.
“I spent the night (before the funeral) at her house — I saw her slippers, her makeup, and I just couldn’t,” Wells said. “I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the strength.”
A jury convicted Jordan and condemned him to capital punishment months after Edwina Marter’s slaying. Evidence demonstrated that Jordan had executed her while she knelt in front of him, prosecutors argued.
Nonetheless, over the coming years, Jordan successfully appealed that punishment several times — only to have it reinstated each time.
After his third successful appeal, Jordan in 1991 agreed to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole in return for not fighting his sentence again. But he then appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing the sentence he had agreed to was illegal under state law.
The Mississippi Supreme Court sided with Jordan in 1997, saying life without parole didn’t become a sentencing option in the state until 1994, so the only choices for him were death or life imprisonment with the possibility of parole.
Jordan offered to honor the deal for life imprisonment without parole, said Jim Craig, co-director of the MacArthur Center, which is advocating for the death row inmate. But prosecutors argued Jordan had reneged on his earlier promise to stop challenging his punishment, so they secured the death penalty against him a fourth time in 1998.
The latest in an ensuing series of post-conviction appeals by Jordan failed in June, his claims of vindictive prosecution and ineffective counsel having been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Jordan isn’t done fighting, though. The inmate of the state penitentiary at Parchman recently filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the combination of drugs Mississippi has been using in lethal injections included a sedative that hasn’t been proven to be effective and that could cause him great pain before killing him, violating his constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
Shortly before moving to set an execution date for Jordan, the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office gave notice that the state Department of Corrections had modified its protocols to include the use of a sedative the U.S. Supreme Court recently determined is legal.
Some problems still haven’t been settled, though, Craig said. Chief among them, he said, is that Mississippi requires a sedative in a lethal injection to be what’s known as an “ultra short-acting barbiturate” or another similar drug. The new sedative the state plans to use is neither a barbiturate nor similar to one, he said.
Craig said he and his team have asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to delay setting an execution date until the issues are resolved. If that request is denied, they are prepared to file with that court claims similar to those they made in their still-unresolved federal lawsuit about the constitutionality of Mississippi’s drug combination.
Craig said he realizes how hurtful the legal wrangling must be to Edwina Marter’s family.
“Losing a loved one … by the hand of another person is … very stressful and very traumatic — there’s no doubt about that,” Craig said.
But Jordan is not at fault for how long the legal proceedings have gone on, he said.
“The reason Mr. Jordan has been on death row for 40 years is because the state has relentlessly cut corners and cheated on the constitutional process Mr. Jordan is entitled to,” Craig said. “This process the state of Mississippi has taken these people through is not therapeutic.”
Eric Marter agrees it hasn’t been therapeutic but not for the reasons Craig cited.
“It would be nice — it would be comforting — if what (Jordan’s) entitled to had taken place,” Eric Marter said. “In my opinion, it should’ve happened a long time ago.”
The Associated Press and The (Biloxi) Sun-Herald contributed to this report.