I had originally planned to post a video interview with Cory Maye for you this afternoon. But he’s understandably overwhelmed with emotion today. I’ll touch a bit more on this in a piece I’m working on for Huffington Post, but just after the plea was finalized, Maye read a statement he had written to the family of Ron Jones, Jr.. He then left the courtroom for a witness room in the back. I went in to talk with him. Cory Maye always smiles. Bob Evans, his attorney, thinks it may have rubbed the jury the wrong way during his trial. Evans says even on the day he was sentenced to death, he was smiling. But just moments after learning he’d soon be free this morning, Cory Maye wasn’t smiling. His eyes were dropping tears.
I asked him what he was thinking. He started to answer, but couldn’t. So, Evans, Maye, attorney Ben Vernia and I sat for a few moments in silence. Evans then asked, “You’re thinking about Ron, aren’t you? About the Jones family?”
Maye nodded, and dropped his head into his hand.
“I can’t tell you how many times that happens,” Evans told me later. “He grieves for them.”
Until that moment, it’s an aspect of this story I don’t think I had really considered. It must be an incredible burden to know you’ve taken another man’s life, that you’ve caused a pain and sense of loss for all the people who knew and loved that person, and that for them, that pain and loss are permanent.
I’ve noted more than a few times here that Officer Ron Jones, Jr., was well-liked in this community, even among blacks, which is something that can’t be said of many white police officers in the area. Independent of how convinced Cory Maye, his family, his attorneys, or anyone else may be of his legal or moral innocence, independent of the fact that he was put in an awful predicament set in place by bad policies and bad judgment, independent of all of that, he will still always know that he killed a man, a man he respected, a man he now knows meant him no real harm the night all this happened. That’s a hell of a thing to carry around. And it isn’t something he’ll leave behind with his orange jumpsuit.
I took the photo above at the Lawrence County Jail, obviously in a lighter moment. It was a few hours after this morning’s plea. Maye had just told us he wanted to and of take his kids to Disneyland, then described the pot of gumbo his mother would be cooking for his homecoming celebration. The smile came back.
Since he wasn’t up for the video, Maye did ask me to pass along a note he wrote this morning to the people who have written him, advocated for him on the Internet, and otherwise supported him over the years.
So here’s a letter to you, from him:
I really don’t know where to start because I’ve missed out on so much in 9 1/2 years. I guess my first 3-4 weeks spent bonding with family & friends. Me and the kids will probably spend a lot of time fishing and going to the park for walks, where we can talk about about whatever comes to mind.
I know I must get a job as soon as possible. There are a few things my kids have asked for in the last few years that I haven’t been able to get them. I know they’re going to be really excited knowing I’m home, and that daddy will be there for their b-days, Christmas, and more. Maybe we’ll stay up all night watching movies, eating cookies and ice cream.
I guess I’m just ready to share all this love that I have built up inside of me all these years. No more late nights or days just wishing I can hold my kids & tell them that their daddy loves them with all his heart. I’m sure my not being physically present has affected them in many ways. I just pray that it’s not too late, and together we can work on healing one another.
I realize a lot of people are going to wonder why I accepted a plea. We just felt that regardless of the facts and evidence that pointed in my favor, there was the possibility that one or more jurors could not see it my way, causing a mistrial. That could leave me sitting here another nine months or more, or longer if it keeps repeating that way.
This is Mississippi, and some people refuse to let go of their old ways from the old days. I just didn’t want to put my family through any more heartache, and didn’t want to have to wait any longer. It was take a chance of a mistrial, or grab hold of my future and be the man/father/friend that I can be, and that my family loves and misses.
I’ll forever be grateful to all the friends and supporters that have been with me throughout all of this. I thank God daily because it’s good to know this world we live in can have many wonderful & caring people in it. I consider myself blessed to know you all are out there. I’ll forever be in your debt. Thanks a million, and may we continue to stay in touch.
Cory J. Maye