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Opinion

Letter to the Editor: Justice for Pastor P

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The following is a letter to the editor. The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Vicksburg Daily News. 


The Editor
The Vicksburg Daily News
March 21, 2020

Dear Sir:

In recent weeks a trial took place in Warren County and the outcome of that trial should cause anyone with a backbone or inkling of common sense to question the jurisprudence in this county. I am referring to the case against Troy Piccaluga, the former Pastor recently found guilty on one count of statutory rape and one count of sexual battery of two minors and sentenced to 55 YEARS in prison. Murder convictions can carry less time! The only truth to this circus of an investigation and trial is that Pastor Piccaluga was railroaded by a corrupt and incompetent justice system. The case against Mr. Piccaluga was not based on physical evidence, supporting facts or solid proof but rather hearsay, social outrage and political ambition. In our world today concrete evidence is no longer needed when two young girls accuse a pillar of the community of such atrocities. We rush to judgement based on a he said/she said narrative and almost always lean in favor of the minors, never questioning if it just might be possible that those minors have a motive or agenda to hurt someone they feel has wronged them. Such a rush to judgement provides the perfect storm to destroy lives, especially when that judgement involves a socially, emotionally and politically charged allegation rarely questioned by society. Allegations that elected officials might see as certain victory in an election year. I am certain District Attorney Smith could better answer that question given his case was based on NO DNA recovered from the locations cited as crime scenes. Or perhaps Sheriff Pace could answer the question as to why his department did not present cell phone records from any of the parties involved, or any other viable evidence for that matter. Or why Mr. Piccaluga was charged with statutory rape of a minor when your paper printed that one of the girls was 16 years of age – the age of legal consent in Mississippi? The only evidence the Warren County Sheriff’s Department did provide was a recorded conversation between one of the minors and Mr. Piccaluga in which the Sheriff’s Department recorded a phone conversation, without Mr. Piccaluga’s knowledge and encouraged the minor to make false statements in an attempt to entrap Mr. Piccaluga. We could also ask Judge Terrett why she did not allow professional witness testimony on behalf or Mr. Piccaluga or why a twice-hung jury was “encouraged” to reach a verdict the very night the trial ended? Shouldn’t the jury take all the time they need to decide on a verdict? These are just some of the items that should be questioned regarding this entire miscarriage of justice. We could also bring up the mental health history of all parties involved, or the prior allegations made by one of the victims in her previous state of residence. I do realize these things are not admissible in a court of law as they would not pertain to this particular case but to be unequivocally fair, any actual evidence in the case against Mr. Piccaluga was not admissible courtesy of the Good Ole Boys Club of Warren County. I would urge all residents of Warren County to take a long, hard look at the true events of this case and take heed as your sons, brothers or fathers could easily become a victim under this charade of a justice system.

I welcome anyone to email me at [email protected] if they too feel Mr. Piccaluga has not received his due process or would like to share information that proves he has been denied due process. I would especially be interested in hearing from the jurors from this trial. All correspondence will remain confidential.

Awaiting Actual Justice,
Heather O’Neal
Maryland

News

Keith Phillips is the King

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(photo courtesy Keith Phillips)

Keith Phillips has produced some of the most viewed stories in the history of the Vicksburg Daily News. His June story on a local woman who helped her husband’s dream come true by buying him a trucking company still gets hits to this day.

A screen capture of Keith Phillip’s story on Shedeur Sanders.

On Friday he caught wind of a breaking story in the sports world. Deion Sanders son, Shedeur, had committed to play football with his dad at Jackson State University. Keith got confirmation of the story via a tweet from Shedeur Sanders saying “Dad, I’ve got your back!”

The story took off immediately, passing 10,000 views on Facebook in its first hour. Today, four days later, it sits at over 322,000 views and 25,000 likes.

Keith is Vicksburg born and raised, graduating from Vicksburg High School in 2011 where he was a captain on the football team. He went on to the University of Southern Mississippi and graduated in 2017 with a degree in history. His proud mother is Irene Phillips Winters, and he was recently engaged to the very lucky Jennifer Cuellar.

Keith is also actively involved in coaching at St. Aloysius and the YMCA.

“Keith really has a handle on what’s happening in the sports world,” said editor Ronni Mott. “Whether it’s on the local level at all ages, college or the pros, he follows them all. He’s now expanding his reporting to include more of what’s happening in the city, which is great to see.”

Keith joined the Vicksburg Daily News in 2019 as our sports writer. When COVID-19 all but canceled team sports, he turned his attention to human interest stories along with whatever sports stories could be found.

Keith Phillips and the champion Golden Eagles (photo by Ollie Sumrall, used with permission)

Keith’s flag football team at the YMCA, the Golden Eagles, just won the championship, so he is having a good week.

Congratulations, Keith, on all you’ve accomplished so far.

 

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Opinion

Wednesday afternoon’s horrific crash

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Photo by Thomas Parker

Late Wednesday afternoon, I was enjoying supper with friends at their Lake Park home when the call came in and the dispatch tones began to drop for a motor vehicle crash with injuries and the car on fire on Warriors Trail near Bovina. I quickly finished my meal and departed. I notified our administrator, Kelley Branch, and publisher, David Day, of the incident, fully expecting it to end fatally.

I drove carefully to the scene, arriving on the west end of the accident scene in the 5200 hundred block of Warriors Trail. I encountered Chief Deputy Billy Joe Heggins and investigator Todd Dykes who were controlling access from that area of the scene. I listened as Heggins deployed units via radio as the response unfolded. Heggins quickly told me “this is a bad one,” and I could tell by the myriad of emergency vehicles that it definitely was.

Prior to my arrival, I heard Shane Garrard take command via radio. It is protocol that one person assume command and direct emergency response and life saving measures. Garrard not only serves Warren County as 911 director but he is fire chief at the Northeast Fire Department and has been tapped as assistant to Fire Coordinator Jerry Briggs.

There were personnel from every county fire department on scene along with Rescue and two fire medic units from the Vicksburg Fire Department. Fire apparatus from Bovina, Culkin and Fisher Ferry were at the incident.

I watched and listened from a safe distance as these men and women worked to free the victims from the mangled Nissan automobile. A helicopter was dispatched from University Medical Center and the decision was made by Garrard that the golf course at Clear Creek would be the safest place for it to land. Crews worked feverishly to free the victims. A decision was made to bring the flight crew trauma team to the scene to administer medications and assist. Garrard would tell me later in the night that without them, they would have possibly lost the driver.

The passenger was finally freed from the wreckage while efforts to free the driver took well over an hour. The mangled wreckage was wrapped around a tree after striking two other trees broadside. The wreck had ended with the car in a precarious position, and firemen used cribbing (wooden blocks) and jacks, along with the jaws of life and saws, to disassemble the vehicle without further injuring the victims.

The passenger Jamie Dewan Williams, 37, and the driver Tony Wash, 35, are recovering at University Medical Center.

Sheriff Martin Pace said on the night of the accident that speed was definitely a contributing factor in the cause of the crash.

Pace went on to praise the first responders who worked so hard to save the men. 

Three neighbors also were heroes in this incident as they grabbed a garden house and had the fire almost out when Bovina firefighters arrived. 

There were many heroes at work on this scene Wednesday night. It once again proves that the level of cooperation between our city and county fire fighters is saving lives. We should be grateful to all who choose to serve our community.

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Opinion

Vicksburg unites in the face of adversity

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Kofi and Alicia Louis are surrounded by Linda Shows, Jerry Briggs, Reed Birdsong, Michael Battle, Martin Pace, Thomas Parker, a partially hidden Danielle Williams and Milton Moore at Walmart as Kofi checks out his new ride. (photo by David Day)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
– Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities,” 1859

It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. Charles Dickens wrote those words in 1859 and they seem to describe our modern times perfectly.

With grievous crimes reported almost every day, we can surely see the worst of times. Young men being gunned down before they reach adulthood all around us, a pandemic that is killing our family and neighbors while causing social and political drama all over the planet — we feel the worst of times.

Then something happens to remind us that it is also the best of times.

Kofi Louis, 13, had his bike stolen by a gun wielding robber Monday night. Kofi would probably had given him the bike if he had asked. He has already given away several bikes to his friends.

“He would find some bike parts in the trash and drag them home,” said his big sister Alicia Louis. Once he had enough parts assembled, he would come up with a bike, one he would proudly ride around the neighborhood. When he got up enough parts for another bike he would give one of them away to a friend who didn’t have a bike.

“I don’t need two bikes,” Kofi explained.

“He does it all the time,” Alicia added. “We got on to him for bringing all that bike trash home, but he kept on doing it.”

Alicia and Kofi live with their dad in an older part of town.

The Louis home where Chris Gilmer has installed new locks and Kofi Louis walks his new bike into the yard. (photo by David Day)

When the story of Kofi’s bike being stolen was reported there was an immediate outcry from the community. Some folks damned the police, some blamed a lawless society, many echoed the negativity that permeates the internet while others threatened mob justice for the criminal.

But a few people thought the focus should be on getting Kofi a new bike. Linda Shows started it all with her comment on the Vicksburg Daily News’ Facebook page: “Can some of us get together and get this child another bike?”

The response was strong and immediate.

“I will help,” said Stormy Deere.

“I don’t live in Vicksburg but would gladly contribute!” wrote Roberta Hefley.

“I couldn’t keep up with all the names of people who wanted to donate!” said an exhilarated Shows.

Kofi’s sister Alicia Louis organized a GoFundMe account to make sure her little brother got a new bike.

“I didn’t ask for much,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure he got a bike. He helps everyone. I wanted to help him.”

Warren County Fire Coordinator Jerry Briggs read the story and sent a private message to the publisher of the Vicksburg Daily News that he would pay for a new bike for Kofi.

“He can go pick it out,” he wrote. “I will buy the replacement.”

By the next morning Thomas Parker with the Vicksburg Daily News got involved and suddenly, everyone from Vicksburg Police Chief Milton Moore to Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace wanted to help Kofi Louis. The whole group descended on Kofi and Alicia’s house Thursday. Joining the group was locksmith Chris Gilmer of Vicksburg Locksmith Company.

A police escort to Walmart was followed by an intimidating group of city and county bigwigs including all 6 feet and who knows what of Reed Birdsong, Jerry “Fire Boss” Briggs, Tommy Parker, Linda Shows, Danielle Williams, traffic Patrolman Michael Battle and assembled media walking through Walmart like the Champions of the World (if it was a movie they’d be walking in slow motion) to the bike section.

It was a sight to see.

Like the Champions of the World, assembled officials escort Kofi Louis into Walmart to claim his bicycle. It should be seen in slow motion. (photo by David Day)

While this group of community leaders were slow-mo-ing through Walmart, Chris Gilmer was at the Louis residence installing new, high-dollar and high-security locks on their door. Gilmer showed up on a moment’s notice and refused payment from anyone for the locks. His locks and service probably cost more than the bicycle and accoutrements, but that is another story.

When we first arrived at Kofi’s house, he barely spoke and barely looked up to make eye contact. Now, at Walmart with his massive security team he was like a kid — well, like a kid in a bicycle shop. He was all eyes when he walked right over to the bike he wanted. It was a nice bike but not very fancy, not very expensive.

“Are you sure?” Chief Moore asked. “Have you seen the ones over here?”

Over here were the really nice bikes, the ones everyone wants including the chief. “I like these,” he said. “I’ll need one of these.”

Kofi said they are too expensive.

“You can have any bike you want!” Moore, Shows, Parker, Williams and Briggs all said it almost simultaneously.

Kofi looked around and slowly walked over to the really nice bikes like he was in a dream — maybe he was. He went straight to a fire-engine red Genesis brand bicycle that was a sure enough looker. Chief Moore and Sheriff Pace pulled the bike out of the rack and stood it on the floor. It is a beaut — every kid’s perfect bike.

It was now Kofi’s bike.

Big sister Alicia, Kofi, Michael Battle, Pace and Moore watched as Kofi got ready to mount the bike for the first time. He pushed it around. He got on it. Sheriff Pace adjusted the seat. Everyone seemed settled that it was the right bike for Kofi.

“I like that color, fire engine red,” said Jerry “Fire Boss” Briggs.

Pace encouraged Kofi to get a helmet and in a confident 13-year-old fashion, Kofi told the Sheriff that he “didn’t need no helmet.” Alicia suggested they go look, anyway.

Other folks shopping at Walmart were looking on while trying not to be too obvious. The group made quite a stir in the bicycle section of Walmart, and store Manager Angela Shelby came over to see what was going on. When she heard the story she immediately told the group that Walmart was paying for everything. She didn’t hesitate even a little.

That is a good community partner.

That is Vicksburg.

And this is Vicksburg, too. We have a crime problem. There are bad people doing bad things. We have a culture where a hint of disrespect can escalate to a shooting. We have legitimate concerns and issues to address in our community. — It is the worst of times.

We also have endless supply of good people who don’t even blink when it comes to helping others.

Jerry Briggs and Reed Birdsong raced to Vicksburg from Jackson to make sure Kofi got his bike and that Kofi knew those two giants of good men had his back. Chief Milton Moore and Danielle Williams rolled out the red carpet for Kofi and Alicia. Sheriff Martin Pace, as he always does, was there to comfort and assist.

Kofi didn’t really know who the sheriff is or what he does, but he knew that man would help him install batteries in his light, and he now has a number to call if he needs anything.

Michael Battle was the first person on scene today and has vowed to get the person that stole Kofi’s bike. Battle also escorted Kofi, police lights on, to Walmart.

Angela Shelby immediately took charge and let everyone know Walmart was here to help. Percy Wright and Cora Collins with Walmart made sure Kofi got a good quality lock for his bike and that nice helmet. You could feel the love from them.

Thomas Parker and Linda Shows got this ball rolling.

Vicksburg, we’re not perfect, and we need to fix some things, but right now, in this moment, isn’t it also the best of times?

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