Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Impending Walk To Freedom of Cory Maye

Sometimes I'm right, sometimes not so much. Regarding Cory Maye, my prediction was spot on.

I wrote of Cory Maye last year in The Skeptical Juror and The Trial of Cory Maye. I offer first the Prelude to that book, in its entirety:
I got stopped one night. They said I had crack. I didn’t have anything. They hit me. Said they were taking me to jail. Mister Ron Jones showed up later. Asked me if I was okay, and told them not to take me in. He was a good guy. He was a good cop.” -- Resident of Prentiss, Mississippi
As are many rural areas in the country, the small town of Prentiss is suffering a surge in drug-related crime. According to Henry McCullum, Sheriff of Jefferson Davis County, drugs are now the major industry in an otherwise depressed economy. The steady supply of crack, marijuana, and meth enriches the few at the top, sustains those in the middle, and consumes those at the bottom. The illegal drug trade is our nation’s deadliest pyramid scheme.
Perhaps fifty percent of the male population in Jefferson Davis County will spend time in prison before reaching their twenty-first birthday, mostly for drug-related crimes. The homicide rate will exceed that of Detroit.
Unfortunately, the drug economy is but one constituent of the pall that hangs over the small town of Prentiss, and over the county named for the president of the Confederate States of America. The population of Prentiss is primarily white, as is the town’s five-man Police Department. The population of Jefferson Davis County is primarily black, as is the county’s five-man sheriff’s department. The issue of race is omnipresent.
Ron Jones has, for the last four years, worked to solve both the drug and race problems. He has earned the respect of those he serves and protects, regardless of skin color. Among the black community he is known as one of the good ones, perhaps the only good one. Among the drug community, he is known as the K-9 officer, the one with the drug-sniffing dog.
Now, in the waning hours of this first day after Christmas, Ron Jones is prepared to lead his motley team of officers into a darkened duplex to serve yet another search warrant for drugs. He is there based on the word of the town bigot that a large quantity of drugs is stashed inside.
As the rear door is breached, Ron is the first to enter. His announcement that he is a police officer, there to execute a search warrant, is interrupted by gunfire. Ron is struck in the abdomen, just below his vest.
“I’m hit,” he says, making his way back down the steps. The bullet has punctured his aorta. He will bleed to death within minutes.  He falls to his knees.
“Get me to the hospital, I’ve been hit.” He collapses to the ground.
“Good Lord, help.”
From the Postlude, I offered the following summary.
The night was cold and clear and calm. Conditions were ideal for sound transmission over a long distance. Had you been standing on the court house steps that night, when Cory Maye shot and killed Ron Jones, you might have been able to hear the gunshots from a mile distant. If you were inside the police station, you would have instead learned of the shooting over the police radio.

If you had rushed to the duplex, you could have arrived within minutes. Perhaps there, as you stood facing the yellow duplex on Mary Street, you would have seen Darrell Cooley and Stephen Jones struggling to lift the limp and seemingly lifeless body of Ron Jones into the back seat of a patrol car. Perhaps you would have seen Darryl Graves appear from somewhere to help them finish their desperate task. You might have then watched to patrol car race away, lights flashing, siren wailing, as if Ron's life depended on getting to the hospital quickly.

If you had walked to the back of the duplex and stood on the steps as Ron Jones had just minutes earlier, you might have heard an infant girl crying and screaming. At the instruction of the local law enforcement, she would remain unattended and uncomforted until her mother returned home from her night's work at the chicken processing plant.

Standing there, you might have also heard a scared and confused voice apologizing repeatedly, claiming he didn't know it was the police breaking through his door.

And had you laid there on the floor, in place of that scared and confused young man, you might have felt the boots of police officers who would vent their anger and their shame against a handcuffed citizen in their care.
The jury convicted Cory Maye of capital murder. The Court sentenced him to death. Now he will soon walk free. You could almost write today's headlines by quoting from the end of the book's Postlude.
Perhaps next year, a new trial for Cory Maye will take place in the Jefferson Davis County Courthouse on Columbia Avenue, right in the heart of Prentiss. If so, the local populace will divide again along racial lines, as they always have. The prosecution will attempt to exclude blacks from the jury and the defense will try to stop them from doing so. Everyone will behave outwardly, at least, as if race isn't an issue. In some regards, things will be as they have always been in Prentiss.

In the new trial, however, Cory Maye will be represented by a well-funded, well-prepared team of talented attorneys. The State of Mississippi, on the other hand, will attempt to hold together a bruised and battered prosecution theory that has been unraveling ever since Judge Eubanks passed sentence.
This time, Cory Maye's defense team will take the offense. The State of Mississippi will mount a vigorous fighting retreat. It's not clear either side will be able to secure a unanimous vote from the divided citizenry of Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi.

The two factions may instead elect to call a truce under terms that allow each side to claim victory. I predict the State of Mississippi will offer Cory Maye a sentence of time served in exchange for a guilty pleas to the crime of manslaughter. I predict Cory Maye will accept, and will walk free.

And I predict, sadly, that not much else will change in Prentiss, or Jefferson Davis County, or Mississippi.
I believe I may have, in my book, added some insight previously missed. I did provide unrequested copies to the legal firm representing Cory Maye. I am definitely not, however, responsible for Cory Maye's freedom. That credit falls to many other people, some of whom I mentioned in the Acknowledgements section of my book. I'll quote that here as well.
I learned of the case of Cory Maye from the writing of Radley Balko. Balko is an award-winning investigative journalist who writes of criminal justice and civil liberties issues. He is, as of this writing, a senior editor for Reason magazine. [He now writes for Huffington Post.] He writes routinely for Reason and his own blog, The Agitator. His work has been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court and excerpted by the Mississippi State Supreme Court. ... No one deserves more credit than Radley Balko for bringing the case of Cory Maye to public attention.

I acknowledge as well the law firm of Covington and Burling for their pro bono effort to secure an acquittal for Cory Maye. Within that firm, I note specifically  the work of Abe Pafford and Ben Vernia. Pafford learned of the Cory Maye case via the writing of Radley Balko and convinced his firm to assist in the case, despite his junior status. Ben Vernia argued the venue issue before the Mississippi Court of Appeals. The Court granted a new trial based on that issue and that issue alone. Vernia continues to represent Cory Maye even after forming the Vernia Law Firm, also of Washington D.C.

I acknowledge the work of the folks at for their support of Radley Balko as he investigated the case of Cory Maye. I acknowlege them as well for their role in the development of the online documentary Mississippi Drug War Blues that so clearly presents the case of Cory Maye.
Also worthy of substantial credit is Bob Evans, Cory Maye's original appellate attorney. I mentioned him briefly but with unvarnished respect in the Postlude.
After the trial, Cory Maye's family fired Rhonda Cooper. Bob Evans, the original public defender in the case, took over as Maye's appellate counsel. The Prentiss Board of Alderman fired Evans for doing do. Bob Evans nonetheless continued to represent Cory Maye without hesitation or regret.
For a more conventional, after the fact discussion of Cory Maye's impending walk to freedom, see here, here, or here.