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Mississippi man accused of 2015 capital murder will be released on bond



A man imprisoned since 2015 will be released on bond days before his capital murder trial was to begin.

New evidence has surfaced indicating Jonathan Shumaker, 28, may not have been involved in the shooting death of a Macon, Miss., gas-station attendant, Kristopher Haywood, in March 2015.

Four people were charged in the case: Shumaker and his girlfriend Elizabeth Reed, and brothers Justin and Joshua Williams. Shumaker and Reed are from Shuqualak, and the Williams brothers are from Macon. Shumaker allegedly pulled the trigger.

Haywood was found shot multiple times on March 2, 2015, at about 10:30 p.m. at a Local Express gas station in Macon. He died of his wounds two days later.

Among the new evidence are voice recordings putting all four of the accused 13 miles from the scene of the shooting just minutes after the 911 call came in reporting it, reports The Dispatch newspaper. The accused are heard making music with a fifth individual, Freddie Hill. Shumaker’s attorney, Shane Tompkins, said the recordings were uncovered by the Capital Defense team, which focuses on death penalty cases.

District Attorney Scott Colom.

In a press conference Thursday, Nov. 14, in Noxubee County, District Attorney Scott Colom announced the case against Shumaker will be continued, and he is recommending that Reed and the Williams brothers also be released on bond. As a condition of his release, Shumaker will be wearing a GPS tracking device.

The DA said the recordings had been analyzed by two experts.

“These audios were concerning to me because of the timing,” Colom told the paper. “… The 911 call was reported at 10:37. The first recording is at 10:42 p.m., five minutes after the 911 call, which means five minutes after (the murder) was reported, Freddie Hill had Joshua Williams’ phone and Freddie Hill said the four of them were together making music. That’s not consistent with the statements any of the witnesses said that led to the arrest of these four people. That’s extremely inconsistent with what they said.”

Colom indicated that the investigation into the Haywood murder will continue, and said that his office will hire a private investigator to concentrate solely on this case. He did not speculate on whether any of the accused would be exonerated.

“The investigation’s not over until it’s over,” he said.


Vicksburg police make a drug arrest, respond to auto theft and shots fired



Clarence Lee, 64, arrested for possession of cocaine.

The Vicksburg Police Department has provided the following incident reports for Friday, Dec. 6 through Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019.

On Friday, Dec. 6, Vicksburg Police officers arrested Clarence Lee, 64, of Vicksburg, at a traffic stop. He is charged with possession of cocaine and will appear before Judge Angela Carpenter in Vicksburg Municipal Court today, Monday, Dec. 9.

On Saturday, Dec. 7, officers responded to the Circle K convenience store at 4150 Washington St. for a reported auto theft. The complainant said that someone stole his 2017 Dodge Challenger from the gas pump.

Officers also responded to two reports of shots fired. In both cases, officers found no signs of suspicious activity or evidence of shots being fired.

The first call was on Friday, Dec. 6, in the 2700 block of Alcorn Drive, and the second report was on Sunday, Dec 8, in the area of Ivy Circle and Springridge Drive.


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Mississippi felony voting-rights lawsuit heard by Court of Appeals in New Orleans



Photo by Phil Roeder from Des Moines, IA, USA - 11.2.2010 291/365, CC BY 2.0,

Story by Michele Lui. This story was originally published by Mississippi Today.

After Dennis Hopkins lent his name to a lawsuit that could restore voting rights to tens of thousands of Mississippians, the Potts Camp resident hit the road, traveling to Jackson and Montgomery on behalf of the cause he now represents.

On Tuesday, Dec. 3, Hopkins found himself in a federal courtroom in New Orleans, seated by his wife and a childhood friend. In front of him, a three-judge panel at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals presided over oral arguments on the suit, which challenges how Mississippi disqualifies people from voting following certain felony convictions.

Hopkins is one of six plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit. Following a grand larceny conviction from 1998, Hopkins – now a foster parent, children’s sports coach and municipal employee – cannot cast a ballot in Mississippi.

“It’s not about Dennis Hopkins voting,” Hopkins said. “It’s about the people and the taxpayers of Mississippi voting.”

Mississippi currently bans people who are convicted of a set of disqualifying crimes from voting for the rest of their lives. Those laws, established by the state Constitution of 1890, dictate that suffrage can only be restored by having a legislator-sponsored suffrage bill, which then must be approved by two-thirds of both the House and the Senate, or by a governor’s pardon. As of 2012, the attorney general’s office had identified 22 disenfranchising crimes, including theft, arson, perjury, embezzlement and timber larceny.

Only two other states, Kentucky and Iowa, impose a lifetime ban for people convicted of disenfranchising crimes. One estimate now ranks Mississippi first in the nation for its rate of disenfranchised residents.

Plaintiffs, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and New York-based firm Simpson Thacher, say people who have completed their sentence should have their suffrage restored automatically. Among their claims, they argue the lifetime voting ban violates the Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment, and 14th Amendment, which plaintiffs say allows states only to temporarily “abridge” someone’s voting rights following a crime.

But the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment does allow permanent disenfranchisement for a felony, said Krissy Nobile, representing the state in front of a three-judge panel Tuesday. Nobile said that plaintiffs lack “present-day proof of any unconstitutional effects of the law” as well.

The appellate court agreed to hear the case on an expedited basis after both parties appealed a district court ruling, in which judge Daniel P. Jordan III threw out all but one of plaintiffs’ challenges earlier this year.

Nobile argued that Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, the only named defendant in the suit, should not have been sued because his office does not have the authority to restore voting rights – the state Legislature does.

If the court were to hold the secretary of state responsible, “no convicted felon will receive a suffrage bill,” Nobile said. “No convicted felon will be re-enfranchised.”

Jonathan Youngwood, an attorney for the plaintiffs, cited a passage rate of individual suffrage bills that is already effectively “zero.” Youngwood noted that in the last 50 years, states have increasingly moved away from lifetime voting bans.

“The notion that losing the right to vote for the majority of your life after you’ve completed otherwise your sentence, what you owe society, can only be called punishment,” Youngwood said.

Judge Edith Jones asked Youngwood a series of questions, including whether plaintiffs were trying to re-enfranchise people convicted of rape and murder, and whether the secretary of state was the correct office sued.

Organizations including the American Probation and Parole Association, the Cato Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi also filed briefs in support of the plaintiffs.

Following oral arguments, Hopkins and his attorneys gathered in Lafayette Square, across the street from the courthouse, joined by other support groups from Louisiana and Mississippi to push for the restoration of voting rights not just in Mississippi, but across the Deep South.

“I am fighting, standing up for the right, for the people in Mississippi just like me that made a mistake in life,” Hopkins said. “(I) corrected my mistake, and now I’m ready to vote and restore my right as a human being, as a man. Because you have to move forward. Because what we’re doing is we’re still holding back to our old ways.”

The appellate court is also set to consider a separate challenge to Mississippi’s lifetime felony voting ban, filed by the Mississippi Center for Justice. In that suit, which also names Hosemann as the defendant, plaintiffs argue that Mississippi’s voter disenfranchisement law was designed to ensnare African Americans, whom the framers of the state Constitution believed were more prone to committing certain kinds of crimes.

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Mississippi seeing a rise in paper ballot systems



Lafayette County is on its way to becoming the 13th Mississippi county to return to paper ballots for elections.

In 2007, the county moved to using direct-recording electronic machines, reports the Oxford Eagle, which allowed for one-touch voting on digital screens. Last week, the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors voted to begin advertising for systems using paper ballots.

DRE machines were touted to save time and money in tallying vote totals; however, issues with those systems, including lack of paper trails and vulnerabilities to hackers, are seeing counties return to paper systems across the country. That’s especially true as DREs reach the end of their usable lives and must be replaced.

The system the Lafayette supervisors is investigating would include ballot scanners and software to initially count votes from scanned ballots. If questions arise, the paper ballots could be hand counted, a feature not available with DREs, some of which do not provide a paper trail of votes at all. The scanners could also provide instant feedback to voters such as alerting them to not having voted in a particular race or having voted more than once in a race.

In 2018, Mississippi was granted $4.5 million in federal funds to harden its election security, funds that counties could have used to upgrade their aging voting systems. It’s unclear how those funds were allocated.

Currently, 12 of Mississippi’s 82 counties have returned to paper ballots in whole or in part. Those counties—which include Hinds, Madison and DeSoto—hold about half the state’s voting population. Data compiled by show that most states used paper ballot systems as of 2018, often in combination with DREs.

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