Victims of the State

16 Cases

Benton County, MS 

Thomas Gunter

July 1929  (Ashland)

Thomas G. Gunter was convicted of the murder of his son-in-law, Marlin Drew. Marlin and his wife, Pearl, lived with their three children at the home of Pearl's parents. Marlin was found dead in his bed with a bullet through his heart and a revolver nearby. Authorities concluded his death was a suicide. Following the death, Pearl sent their seven-year-old daughter, Dorothy Louise Drew, to visit relatives in Tennessee. While there Dorothy related how she had been sleeping with her “pop,” when her “granddad,” Thomas Gunter, came into the room and shot him. Pearl soon confirmed the story. Gunter's wife insisted that Pearl had shot Marlin in a fit of jealousy while Gunter was drunk in another part of the house. Gunter was soon convicted and sentenced to 5 years in prison.

Three months later, after Pearl gave birth to her fourth child, she confessed that she had killed Marlin and requested that her 63-year-old father be pardoned. Pearl said she had coached Dorothy Louise to implicate her father. She added it was always her intention to tell the truth after the birth of her baby, and that she could not bear the thought of it beginning its life in prison. Mississippi Governor Bilbo then granted Gunter a 90-day suspension of sentence as Pearl was bound over for an appearance before the Grand Jury. After the Grand Jury indicted Pearl for murder and perjury, Pearl was arraigned and pled guilty. The judge, however, used his statutory discretion and suspended Pearl's sentence.

When Gunter's 90-day suspension expired in Feb. 1930, the governor denied his application for a pardon and ordered him to return to prison. The governor stated, “Somebody ought to be in the penitentiary all the time for the murder of a sleeping man. If Judge Pegram does not believe Mrs. Drew is guilty enough to serve her term, then the man convicted of her murder will have to serve his term. Husbands ought to have some protection.” Gunter, however, refused to return to the penitentiary and as of Feb. 1931 when an account of the case was written, both he and Pearl had fled the state of Mississippi.  (CTI)  [10/09]

Chickasaw County, MS 

Cameron Todd


Cameron Todd, a police officer, arrested three adults and three teenagers for setting fire to a trailer. One of them, a 13-year-old girl accused him and others of raping her. Todd was charged with Capital Rape (in 1997) and was linked in press hysteria as being one of the ringleaders of a major child prostitution, drug, and pornography operation. The girl who made the initial accusation has since recanted.  (MS Justice) (Todd v. State)  [3/05]

Forrest County, MS 

Clyde Kennard

Sept 25, 1960

Clyde Kennard, a black man, was convicted of burglary charges for his repeated efforts to enroll in the segregated Mississippi Southern College (later renamed the University of Southern Mississippi). He had previously been convicted in 1959 on trumped up charges of reckless driving and having alcohol in his vehicle. However, that conviction only carried a $600 fine with no jail time. He ignored that warning.

For his burglary conviction, Kennard was sentenced to seven years of hard labor for participating in the theft of $25 worth of chicken feed. Due to failing health, Kennard was granted clemency in 1963, but died six months later. In 2005, three Lincolnshire, Illinois high school students spent more than six months documenting and uncovering new evidence that Kennard was convicted on trumped up charges. Kennard's accuser at trial signed a sworn affidavit exonerating him. On May 4, 2006, Governor Barbour rejected a posthumous pardon request for Kennard, although he recognized him as innocent. On May 17, a Forrest County judge vacated Kennard's convictions and declared him innocent. Kennard's 1959 conviction had been vacated by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1961.  (JD#1) (JD#2) (FJDB)  [2/07]

Forrest County, MS 

Stephanie Stephens

May 1, 2001 (Hattiesburg)

Stephanie Stephens was convicted of the murder of her 59-year-old husband, Dr. David Stephens. David was chief of surgery at Hattiesburg's Forrest General Hospital. David appeared to have died in his sleep, while Stephanie slept next to him. However, two drugs were found in his system, Etomidate, an anesthetic, and Atricurium, a drug used to relax muscles during surgery for patients on life support. Without life support, Atricurium is lethal as it will paralyze a person's heart and lungs.
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Hinds County, MS 

Roland Anderson

May 26, 1992

Roland Anderson was convicted of burglary in the attempted kidnapping and shooting of Dorothy Brister. Brister was a bail bondsman and a confidential informant for the Jackson Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency. The day before she was to testify against a suspected drug dealer, an individual posing as a police officer arrived at her home. The imposter informed her he was taking her into protective custody. Although Brister was suspicious, the imposter eventually coerced her into her rental car outside; when Brister attempted to flee, the imposter shot her once in the neck. Brister's live-in boyfriend witnessed the attack and attempted, unsuccessfully, to apprehend the assailant. Brister remains partially paralyzed in her left hand as a result of the attack.

Although police showed Brister several photographs, she was unable to identify her attacker. Three years later while posting a bond, Brister overheard the voices of three men and suspected that one was the perpetrator. When she looked up, she recognized Anderson as her assailant. Brister and her daughter, Fredrika, identified Anderson in a photo line-up prior to trial; investigators did not ask her boyfriend to identify Anderson. Anderson's first trial resulted in a hung jury, but on retrial he was convicted of aggravated assault, impersonating a police officer, and burglary with intent to kidnap. The first two convictions were dismissed post-trial because they were barred by the statute of limitations.

While serving his 15 year sentence, Anderson met Brister's boyfriend, Arthur Gray, in prison. Gray saw the shooter and told Anderson it was not him. He later signed an affidavit reiterating his observation. In 2001, a federal court overturned Anderson's conviction. He was released on bond in 2004 and charges against him were dropped in 2007.  (Anderson v. Johnson) (FJDB)  [9/08]

Hinds County, MS 

Cedric Willis

June 16, 1994 (Jackson)

Cedric Willis was convicted in 1997 of the armed robbery of Carl White, Jr., his wife Gloria, and daughter Jamilla at their home in Jackson. During the robbery, the robber shot White in the leg, and since White later died of the gunshot wound, Willis was also convicted of his murder. The Whites identified Willis as the perpetrator. The gun used in the crime was also used in three other robberies committed within the same two-hour time frame. However, Willis had a tight alibi for these crimes and the victims failed to identify him. The same gun was also used in a fourth robbery committed four days prior to the crime. The victims of this robbery identified Willis, but charges against Willis were dropped after DNA evidence from a rape committed during the crime implicated an unknown male who was neither Willis nor the victim's husband. During all five robberies, victims were shot in the leg.

At trial Willis was not allowed to present evidence from any of the other four robberies. The jury who heard the compelling testimony from the murder victim's family quickly convicted him. Willis was sentenced to life plus 90 years imprisonment. In 2005, Willis was granted a new trial on all charges. In 2006, a judge found the Whites' testimony to be inadmissible at the new trial, and upon a joint motion of the defense and the state, the judge dismissed all charges against Willis.

Jefferson Davis County, MS 

Cory Maye

Dec 26, 2001 (Prentiss)

Cory Maye, a black man, was sentenced to death for the murder of a white police officer. One night while the 21-year-old Maye was drifting off to sleep in front of a television, a violent pounding on his front door awakened him. It sounded as though someone was trying to break it down. He retrieved his handgun and went to the bedroom where his 14-month-old daughter was sleeping and got down on the floor next to the bed. He hoped the noises would go away, but they shifted around to the back of the house, where after a loud crash, Maye's rear door was violently flung open, nearly separating it from its hinges. After someone kicked open the bedroom door, Maye fired three shots. The next thing Maye heard is someone scream, “Police! Police! You just shot an officer!” Maye then dropped his gun and surrendered.  The shot officer, Ron Jones, was wearing a bulletproof vest, but one of Maye's bullets hit him just below the vest and proved fatal. Jones was the son of the town's police chief.

Maye was severely beaten after his arrest. Police denied this charge, but a press photo shows him with a swollen black eye. Maye's family was prohibited from seeing him for more than a week – long enough for his bruises to heal. Police had raided Maye's duplex because a reputed drug dealer – a person Maye had never met – lived in an adjoining half of the duplex. A confidential informant said there were large stashes of marijuana in both halves of the duplex. Only the remains of a smoked joint were found in Maye's duplex. Maye had no criminal record and police did not know his name prior to the drug raid. Maye's conviction has provoked outrage not only by liberals concerned about racially charged Southern Justice, but also by conservative supporters of the right to bear arms. Maye's death sentence was overturned in Sept. 2006.  (Reason)  [4/07]

Lauderdale County, MS 

Larry Fisher

May 4, 1983 (Meridan)

Larry Fisher was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of Melinda Gail Weathers, an 18-year-old high school student. A series of similar crimes had occurred in the area, and pre-trial media coverage of the case was extensive. Fisher asked for a change of venue but was denied. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed his conviction because he was denied his right to a fair trial. Two months later he was tried in a different county and acquitted of all charges.  [4/07]

Lowndes County, MS 

Sabrina Butler

Apr 12, 1989

Sabrina Butler was sentenced to death for the murder of her nine-month-old son, Walter Dean Butler. At her trial, the prosecution sought to prove that Butler's account of the events leading to her son's death was false, and that she had inflicted the fatal wounds intentionally. On appeal, the court remanded the case for a new trial based on a number of flaws in the trial proceedings. By the time of the retrial in 1995, one of Butler's neighbors had come forward with evidence that corroborated her account: that the injuries to her son occurred during the course of an unsuccessful attempt to administer CPR. The retrial jury acquitted Butler of all charges. It is now believed that her son may have died either cystic kidney disease or from SIDS.  (PC)  [7/05]

Marion County, MS 

Will Purvis

June 22, 1893

Will Purvis was convicted of the murder of Will Buckley. Buckley was a member of the Whitecaps, a tight-knit organization similar to the Ku Klux Klan. Its members swore in blood never to reveal its secrets. In early 1892, the Whitecaps had unmercifully flogged a black servant of Buckley. Buckley had known nothing of the Whitecaps' intentions and was absent. Enraged at this uncalled-for violence and the secrecy with which it was carried out, Buckley decided to submit the whole affair and to expose the secrets of the Whitecaps to the next meeting of the Grand Jury. At the Grand Jury meeting, Buckley's evidence was presented, and indictments were brought against the three Whitecaps who were known to be most brutal in the attack.
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Noxubee County, MS 

Levon Brooks

Sept 15, 1990 (Brooksville)

Levon Brooks was convicted of the rape and murder of his ex-girlfriend's daughter, three-year-old Courtney Smith. Courtney was abducted at night from her Brooksville home and her body was found in a nearby pond two days later. Brooks' conviction was based on the the forensic testimony of the medical examiner, Dr. Steven Hayne, and forensic bite-mark testimony given by Dr. Michael West. West testified that Brooks' two top teeth matched alleged bite marks on Courtney's wrist. Forensic evidence indicated the alleged marks were made post-mortem, as they were not accompanied by internal bleeding. Since Courtney's cause of death was drowning, it was unlikely the marks were human bite marks, as the perpetrator would have had to bite Courtney after she drowned. Dr. Hayne, however, disputed that the marks were post-mortem.

In 2008, Justin Albert Johnson, a local man who was an initial suspect in the murder, confessed to the crime after DNA tests implicated him in the murder of another three-year-old girl. Another man from the same town named Kennedy Brewer had been convicted of that murder using almost identical testimony that alleged bite marks on the victim matched Brewer's two top teeth. In his confession, Johnson adamantly denied that he bit either girl. Along with Brewer, Brooks was subsequently exonerated.  (MIP) (IP)  [9/08]

Noxubee County, MS 

Kennedy Brewer

May 3, 1992 (Brooksville)

Kennedy Brewer was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of three-year-old Christine Jackson, the daughter of his live-in girlfriend. Christine had been taken from her home in the early morning hours and found dumped in a creek. An intruder could have entered the home through a broken window. Brewer was the boyfriend of Gloria Jackson, the victim's mother. Christine had been sleeping on a makeshift pallet of sofa cushions at the foot of the couple's bed. In the morning, the couple discovered that Christine was gone. Two other children were present in the home.
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Panola County, MS 

John Randall Alexander

July 15, 1987

“John Randall Alexander was wrongly convicted in 1989 of the July 15, 1987 death of a man who was run over by a car as he was walking along a two-lane highway in Panola County, Mississippi. Alexander was convicted based on the testimony of three people, including a husband and wife, that he had confessed. [He] was sentenced to life in prison. In June 1992 the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Alexander's conviction. Five years after [his] trial the woman admitted she lied and perjured herself because her abusive husband wanted her to testify against Alexander. She provided Alexander with an Affidavit that he relied on to file a state writ of habeas corpus. Based on the new evidence of the woman's recantation that also cast doubt on her husband's testimony, Alexander's conviction was overturned in June 1995 and he was granted a new trial. The prosecution did not act until 15 years after his release, when in March 2010 the murder charge was dropped and his indictment dismissed with prejudice, which means it cannot be refiled.” – FJDB

Scott County, MS 

Jamie & Gladys Scott

Dec 24, 1993 (Hillsboro)

Jamie and Gladys Scott, sisters, were convicted of participating with three teenage boys in the armed robbery of Johnny Ray Hayes and Mitchell Duckworth. The convictions were based on the testimony of the victims and two of the male robbers even though both groups initially gave police statements that made no mention of the sisters' involvement. The sisters were sentenced to life imprisonment.
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Sunflower County, MS 

Arthur Johnson

July 9, 1992

Arthur Johnson was convicted of breaking into a Sunflower apartment and raping a young woman who lived there. The assailant did not leave enough semen for police to determine his blood type, but the victim stated her assailant was “Boo Rabbit,” which was Johnson's nickname. She subsequently identified Johnson in person and he was sentenced to 55 years in prison. In Nov. 2007, DNA tests determined that Johnson could not have been the rapist. He was freed in 2008 after test results were run through the state's data bank and a match was found to the DNA of the real rapist.  (Delta Democrat Times)  [1/09]

Wilkinson County, MS 

Leon Chambers

June 14, 1969 (Woodville)

Leon Chambers was convicted of the murder of Sonny Liberty, a police officer. Two Woodville police officers, James Forman and Aaron “Sonny” Liberty, tried to arrest a local youth named C. C. Jackson at Hayes' Café, a bar and pool hall on First West St. However, a crowd of 50 to 60 people gathered who frustrated their arrest attempt. Forman radioed for backup and Liberty removed his riot gun, a 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun, from his patrol car.
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