Paul Jacob’s column this week is on the Cory Maye case.
Category: Cory Maye
One thing that I find remarkable is the lack of bitterness or anger from the guy. His lawyer, Bob Evans, tells me that Maye speaks only reverently of Officer Ron Jones, always refering to him as “Mister Ron,” a term of respect and affection.
I guess I’m not exactly sure how your typical cold-blooded cop-killer’s correspondence from prison would read. But sheer intuition tells me it would read nothing like the letter linked above.
If you’ll remember back, one very important way the prosecution called Cory Maye’s credibility into question was to cast doubt that events the night of the raid transpired the way Maye said they did. Primarily, they did this through the witness Dr. Steven Hayne, the man who did the autopsy on Officer Ron Jones.
Hayne said that the bullet in Jones’ abdomen was traveling in a downward trajectory, implying that the gun that fired that bullet would had to have been fairly high off the ground. Since Maye says he was lying on the floor when the door flew open and Jones came into the bedroom, the prosecution zeroed in on the bullet’s trajectory through Jones’ body, and implied to the jury that Maye wasn’t cowering in fear on the floor, but laying in wait, standing up behind the bed (they didn’t quite have an explanation as to why a guy laying in wait would kill just one cop, then surrender).
I’ve already looked at a couple of facts that call that theory into question, including the fact that the bullethole in Jones’ body was a “reentry” would, meaning it likely hit something else before entering his body, which may have altered its trajectory (the prosecuton says it was a can of Skoal in Jone’s pocket). But there’s a more significant flaw in the prosecution’s version of events, as you’ll see from the photos below I took at the crime scene while in Mississippi last month.
As it turns out, the door frame is still in the same condition it was the night of the raid. And if you look carefully, you can see that there’s still a bullethole from the gun Maye fired that night. The bullethole is between the door handle and the female piece for a security chain, putting it at about gut-to-breast level for a man of normal height.
The close-up of the bullethole very clearly shows that it was traveling up when hit the door frame, not down.
Now think about this. Jones had to run up three steep stairs to get to the entrance to the bedroom. Isn’t it possible, even probable, that he was crouched, or low to the ground when he entered and Maye fired?
Put another way, we have a hole in the door frame at gut-level that’s clearly headed up. And we have a hole in a man at gut level that’s clearly headed down. The two bullets were fired within a fraction of a second. One of those two targets had to be in a position other than upright when Cory Maye fired his gun. Ask yourself, which of the two was more likely to have been crouched the night of the raid, Officer Jones, or the door frame?
If you’re wondering why Maye’s lawyer Rhonda Cooper didn’t bring this up at trial — well, so am I.
And, after the break, some shots from Prentiss.
A few notes about Prentiss: It’s a town of about 1,000 people that’s on the economic skids. Even before Katrina, Prentiss was lost about 10% of its population between 2000 and 2004. After Katrina? Things just got worse. I talked to several people who’ve been unemployed since what they’ve now just started calling “The Storm.” There’s still quite a bit of damage in this area that has yet to be cleaned up.
The downtown area of Prentiss presents this odd juxtaposition of new-looking promotional banners touting “Historic Downtown Prentiss” hanging over a downtown that is, basically, empty. It’s kind of a sad place. There are a few nice houses just outside of downtown but the people I spoke with say they’re mostly older folks who made their money a long time ago. Anyone under 50 with any money at all has the good sense to leave. There are also a few fast food joints, gas stations, and a couple of strips mall on the south side of town. But it’s probably fairly revealing that the the biggest employers down there are the schools, the government, and the Prentiss hospital.
Race is inescpaable down here. Win a black resident’s trust, and they’ll rattle off a dozen stories of race-based discrimination, harrasment, or police excess that’ll overwhelm you. I guess the difference between what you’ll here in Prentiss and, say, the same stories coming from someone like Cynthia McKinney, is that when black folks in Prentiss told me horror stories, I found them entirely convincing.
The white people I spoke with in Prentiss generally think Cory Maye got what he deserved (though there were a few exceptions). One interesting thing, though: Many of the people I spoke with didn’t actually know the details of the case. Many, for example, thought police found a substantial amount of drugs in Cory’s apartment, and that Cory, not Jamie Smith, was the original target of the raid. Explain to them that Maye’s name doesn’t appear on the warrants, that his daughter was in the home at the time of the raid, and that he had no criminal record, and you see wheels begin to spin. Throw in the town’s untoward firing of Bob Evans, and the people I spoke with seemed to come around a bit to Cory’s side, more so with younger people than with the town’s older residents.
Let me also add that I met some very friendly, hospitable people down there. I met several who weren’t so friendly, of course. And more than a few who said things like, “you’d better watch youself around here,” the kinds of things you’d expect to hear in a movie. I guess my point is that I don’t mean to disparage everyone in the town. I met some very fine people there. But I’m hoping to paint an accurate picture of what life is like for the people who live there. Which is to say that it isn’t the easiest living for anyone. And it’s a hell of a lot tougher if you happen to be black.
I found quite a bit more out down there beyond what I’ve reported on this site, but I’d like to save much of it for the article I’m working on. But I thought I’d give those of you following the case some shots of the downtown area, enough at least to give you a setting in your mind’s eye when you read future updates.
BTW, if you’re wondering, the “Longleaf Trace” is an old rairoad line converted to a hiking and biking trail through the federal Dept. of Transportation’s “Rails to Trails” program.
Gary McGath posts a pdf of the letter he received from Cory Maye.
I didn’t get to talk with Maye while I was in Mississippi — his lawyers have determined it’s probably not in his interest right now to speak with anyone. I was a little disappointed in that decision, but it’s certainly understandable.
Unfortunately, the only photos of Cory Maye circulating about on the Internet are his prison photo, a photo of him in a jail-issued orange jumpsuit, and in handcuffs being frog-marched from the courthouse in Hattiesburg. Here’s one from his mother:
And below, a recent picture of Ticorianna, the girl who as an infant laid on the bed as the raid transpired. She’s nearly six, now:
I’ve heard secondhand from people close to Cory Maye that even some police officials, particularly with the sheriff’s department, will off-the-record concede that the Pearl River Basin Narcotics Task Force is excessively aggressive, and that it wouldn’t be all that surprising to learn that, indeed, they hadn’t announced themselves before kicking down the door to Maye’s apartment. “Cowboy mentality” was the phrase used more than a couple of times.
One law enforcement officer I met in Prentiss (who asked not to be identified) was more blunt: “Nobody around here wears a halo. People think the gun and the badge mean credibility. That if an officer says drugs were there, they were really there. It don’t. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they didn’t knock before kicking down that door. I wouldn’t be surprised if those drugs they found really weren’t there, either.”
I asked around to see if I could find anyone else who’d been subjected to a raid by the Task Force. Find another couple of cases in which the Task Force raided homes without knocking, and you begin to establish a pattern, making officer testimony at Maye’s trial that they repeatedly knocked and announced themselves less credible.
It didn’t take long. On my first day in Prentiss I met Debra Brooks, a 28-year-old white woman who says that in March 2004, officers from the Task Force raided her home after a confidential informant said she and her family were running a meth lab inside.
At around midnight, police kicked down her two outside doors without first announcing themselves, then stormed her home when her boyfriend opened the inner door to see what what going on. They trained their guns on the three young children inside, still in their beds, and held Brooks in a bedroom at gunpoint while they searched the house for contraband. They found no drugs, or evidence of meth manufacture. They did find a bong, brand new and unused, and a bottle of vodka, illegal in dry Lawrence County (Lawrence is adjacent to Jefferson Davis County). Police never produced a search warrant.
Police arrested Brooks’ boyfriend at the time, Landas Pate, and her brother, James Wesmorland. Pate would be held in prison for several months before his family could post bond. Wesmorland’s family couldn’t make the $40,000 bond. So he was held in the Lawrence County jail for 280 days, until December 2004. Remarkably, on December 30 of that year, Wesmorland was released. No charges. No explanation. He had been held on suspicion of selling meth and pills within 1,500 feet of a church. Police told him they had video surveillance of these alleged sales. They never showed him any video.
A man named Jim Kinslow heads up the Task Force. When Brooks and her mother began raising hell about the raid, Kinslow attempted to direct responsibility toward the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department, who then shifted the blame back on the Task Force. Eventually, an officer named Dwayne Tullis was pinned with most of the responsibility for the raid. Tullis was a Task Force Officer. According to Brooks and her mother, once Kinslow learned that one of his men was responsible for the raid, he stopped returning their calls. I have a call out to Kinslow today.
Tullis was soon fired from the Task Force, but soon after took a job with the Monticello Police Department (the county seat for Lawrence County). Soon enough, he was fired from that job, too. According to people around Monticello and Lawrence County I’ve spoken with, Tullis is now working for the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, making him a state drug officer — effectively a promotion.
Brooks and her mother started inquiring around the area for lawyers to take their case. Her mother called the FBI, who weren’t much help, but told her she might have a successful lawsuit in the making (my own research suggests that such suits are only successful in cases that garner significant media coverage, and even then, only in larger metropolitan areas, where officials can be shamed into a settlement). Shortly after they began asking around, they started receiving threats. Brooks says she was told her kids would be taken away from her if she insisted on pursuing the matter. One sympathetic officer warned her mother not to leave her car unlocked, because he’d heard her agitating had some officers discussing staging a marijuana bust.
All of this is of course the account of events given by Brooks, her brother, and her mother, all of whom I’ve spoken with. I’ve yet to hear from Capt. Kinslow and I’ve yet to have any luck tracking down Officer Tullis. But the details they’ve provided to me suggests they’re believable (I’d heard about Officer Tullis’s employment history, for example, from other people I spoke with in the area).
I found Brooks almost immediately upon visiting Prentiss (where she works). Makes you wonder just how many more like her there are. I heard lots of tales of other officers in the area who, like Tullis, were fired from one police department for excessive force issues, only to be picked up by another department a short time later.
Unlike many people I spoke with in the area, Brooks didn’t mind giving me her name (her mother was more reluctant and fearful of retaliation). She’s pretty pissed off about what happened. If her version of events is accurate, or even close to accurate, she has every right to be.
As for how this case pertains to the Maye case, I think it lends some strong credibility to the theory that (1) these raids can and are initiated on the slightest of suspicions, with very little corroborating investigation (although that’s true just about everywhere), and (2) there’s good reason to suspect that entry without knocking and without announcement is common practice for drug policing in the area, making Cory Maye’s version of events the night of the raid on his house a bit more believable, and officer accounts of the raid a bit less so.
I met with the members of Cory’s family above a week ago Sunday. His mother is in the middle. His father, Robert Brown is the tall man in glasses to your right. Maye took his last name from a friend of his mother’s who mentored him through much of his childhood. The cute kid in the middle is his son, Cory, Jr. Another shot of Cory, Jr. below.
In this post, I mentioned that Cory Maye’s family was denied access to him in jail after the raid. I didn’t specify how long they were denied access to him because I wasn’t sure. Just heard from Maye’s mother that it was two weeks. Even then, they were only permitted to see him after appealing to the mayor of Hattiesburg. It’s feels crude to do so, but it’s probably (and unfortunately) pertinent to note that the mayor of Hattiesburg is black.
One thing that repeatedly came up while I was in Mississippi was the reputation of Officer Ron Jones, the man shot and killed during the raid on Cory Maye’s apartment. To a person, everyone I spoke with had nothing but platitudes for the guy. “A good guy,” seemed to come up a lot. I suppose all the praise for him could in part be due to the tendency we have to venerate the dead, particularly those recently deceased, who die young, and most certainly cops who die in the line of duty.
But even people who had some pretty nasty things to say about the Prentiss police department, and about the area narcotics task force, spoke glowingly of Jones. One black woman, who ran off a littany of race-based abuses she says black folks in Prentiss and Jefferson Davis County had suffered at the hands of white police, went out of her way to exclude Jones from those abuses. “He was a friend,” she said. The man with her added, “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.”
“Maybe the only good one, in Prentiss,” the woman said.
Two people who knew Jones went so far as to tell me that had he not been the cop shot that night — had it been another officer — Jones would have been on Cory Maye’s side in all of this. That is, he would have recognized the predicament Cory was in, and that it was a predicament not of his making. That may or may not be the case. Having not known the man, it seems a bit of a stretch to me. It’d take one hell of a cop to defend someone who shot a fellow cop, no matter the circumstances. Just doesn’t happen that often. I’m also sure Officer Jones’ friends and family wouldn’t be happy to hear such sentiment attributed to him. But if you ask me, that people do say such things speaks quite a bit to the man’s character.
I write on this because I’ve gotten some email over the last few weeks from friends and family of Jones who’ve scorned for disparaging him, and for disparaging his memory. I don’t think I’ve done that. If he’d been a bad guy, or a bad cop, I wouldn’t much care about disparaging his memory. But by all indications, he was none of those things. And I’m fairly convinced that while there are lots and lots of problems with the Mississippi criminal justice system, and with law enforcement in the Pearl River Basin area in particular, few of those problems had anything to do with Officer Jones.
I have raised questions about the thoroughness of the investigation Officer Jones did leading up to the raid. I think that’s fair. Given the facts we now know, I don’t think any reasonable person could today look back and say that kicking Cory Maye’s door down that night was a good idea. It was Jones’ investigation led to Cory Maye’s door being kicked open. Which led Maye to fire in fear of his safety. So it’s appropriate to look at Jones’ investigation. It’s also perfectly appropriate to ask questions about why there either never was, or why there is no longer any record of that investigation. These things are important. If there was little reason to suspect Cory Maye of any serious crime, then there’s every reason to take Maye at his word when he says he thought the men attempting to break into his home were there to do him harm. Jones’ investigation plays into all of that.
That said, I’ve heard (and written) only good things about Jones’ character and integrity. His death was of course an awful, regrettable, and ultimately avoidable tragedy. But given what we now know, killing the man who shot Jones that night won’t honor Jones’ memory. It’ll only compound the tragedy. And I don’t think it taints Jones or his memory to do what we can to prevent that from happening.
On Sunday afternoon, I met Cory Maye’s family (more on that later). After, on Sunday evening, I drove to Columbia, Mississippi to talk with one of the two black women who served on the jury that convicted Maye.
One of the black women has refused to talk with Cory’s lawyers because she works for the county in Columbia, and fears losing her job if she talks (which raises interest in both what she has to say (if it were all favorable to the state, one would think she’d have nothing to worry about) and what type of threats — implicit or otherwise — have been directed at her should she say it).
The other black woman who served on the jury lives in a particularly impoverished trailer park in a small clearing in the woods a few miles outside Columbia. She had no phone, so the only way to talk with her was to pay a visit (all praise to the GPS “NeverLost” system in my rental car).
Let me start by saying I don’t know how to write up what happened next without sounding condescending, or embarassing this woman. And, in fact, I debated putting this post up at all. But in the end, I think it’s important to give some context to the makeup of the jury, and where the jurors were coming from. So I’ll go ahead an put this up. I won’t use the woman’s name, though if anyone wants to verify, she’s in the trial transcripts.
First, the woman lived in a trailer that, even in the context of the shabby surroundings, was in bad shape. She looked to be in her late thirties, early forties, and was missing her front teeth — both top and bottom. She also wasn’t all that interested in talking to me.
“I don’t want to talk about that. I’m trying my best to put that out of my mind.”
“Just a few minutes?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. I want to forget about it.”
“Do you think he did it? Do you think he knew it was a cop he shot that night?”
“I couldn’t say. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. I couldn’t say.”
“You don’t know if he was guilty or not?”
“Some of what he said didn’t make no sense. Some of it made sense. But I couldn’t say.”
“If you weren’t sure, why did you convict him?”
“I couldn’t say.”
“Did you feel any pressure? Were you intimidated?”
“Are you sure? There’s some talk that some of the jurors felt intimidated.”
“No. It wasn’t like that.”
“So you can’t tell me if you think he actually did it or not?”
“I couldn’t say.”
“Do you think he deserves a new trial?”
“Oh, yes. He ought to get a new trial. Everybody deserves a chance.”
“Is there anything else you want to tell me about Cory Maye and the trial?”
“I don’t remember a lot of it. I was on lots of medication. For my nerves. With the medication, I didn’t hear everything. I didn’t remember everything that was going on. So I couldn’t say.”
“What kind of medication?”
“For my nerves.”
“What did you think of Cory’s lawyer?”
“I didn’t like her. I liked her at first, but then she did some things that made me not like her. A lot of people didn’t like her.”
“What kind of things did she do?”
“I couldn’t say, now. I don’t remember. It was a long time ago.”
“Did you convict Cory Mayebecause you didn’t like her?”
“Maybe a little. I couldn’t say. I’m really not sure if he did it or not.”
This poor woman clearly wasn’t clear on the meaning of “reasonable doubt.” She’s also a good example of something I’ll write about in more detail later — a certain sense of reservation among blacks in this area that racism, injustice, and the occasional railroading at the hands of the criminal justice system are all just part life as a black person in this particular part of Mississippi. It’s not only accepted, it’s expected.
There are lots of reasons to be upset by the Cory Maye case that have nothing to do with race. And I’ve tried to avoid injecting race into my own analysis of the case. But it’s impossible to visit the area and come away with any feeling other than that race pervades nearly every facet of life down there.
If you’re one who is inclined to look at the fact that there were two black women on the jury that convicted Cory and sentenced him to death and determine that because of that, race wasn’t a factor at his trial, I think you’re mistaken. In this case, the black woman was not an educated, independent juror with a good grasp of the criminal justice system. She is an unfathomably poor woman who by all indications has had very little education, has little concept of what’s supposed to be determined at a trial, and who convicted Maye despite being far from convinced of what actually happened the night of the raid. She convicted because that’s what she was expected to do.
That she even made it onto the jury, I think, is yet another data point in support of the argument that Rhonda Cooper provided no real representation for Cory Maye at all.
Here’s a front view of the duplex. Cory, Chanteal, and Ticorriana lived on your right. Jamie Smith and Audrey Davis on your left.
Here’s a close-up of Maye’s side of the duplex.
Here’s the back. This is the door that volunteer officer Phillip Allday kicked open, and that Ron Jones entered when Maye fired. When I was at the duplex, I imagined being a cop, knowing that I’d just attempted to kick down the front door, and that I and my fellow officers had just attempted to kick down the back. The place is very small. It’s utterly unfathomable to me that, had I known there was someone involved with drugs inside, I would enter the building with my gun still in its holster.
After visiting the duplex, I’m convinced that the raiding officers that night didn’t think there was anyone inside the Maye side of the duplex.
(Note: I originally had photos from inside the apartment posted here. The current resident, who gave me permission to take them for publication, has since asked that I take them down. I don’t think they’re so pertinent to the discussion as to justify upsetting the current occupant. So I’ve agreed.)
Here’s the main room inside Cory’s apartment. Obviously, someone else lives there, now. So disregard the furniture inside.
Here’s an inside view of the back door. The door is essentially in the same condition it was in the night of the raid. I’ll have some more on the door frame after I get confirmation on a few facts.
Here’s the bedroom view from the door.
By my approximation, this is about the view of the door Cory had the night of the raid. Save, of course, for the fact that it was dark.
One of the more bizarre aspects of the Cory Maye case is exactly what happened to the occupants on the other side of the duplex, Jamie Smith and his girlfriend, Audrey Davis.
Smith was the entire reason the raid took place that night. He’s the only one named in the warrants, had a reputation around Jefferson Davis County as a drug dealer, and indeed had a significant amount of marijuana in his home the night of the raid. So why was he never charged or prosecuted? Why does no one in Prentiss seem to know what happened to him?
I talked to one woman in Prentiss who knew both Smith and Cory Maye before the raid (it’s actually something of a coincidence, given that there’s little evidence that Maye and Smith knew one another all that well). This woman, who fears repercussions from the police department and asked that I not use her name, says that Smith, Davis, and a 15-year-old named “Jimmy” were actually told to leave town by Prentiss police, precisely because of what they saw the night of the raid. In media reports and interviews with me, Prentiss police and prosecutors say only that Smith “skipped bail,” was “never charged,” or that they simply don’t know what happened to him.
The woman I spoke with wasn’t sure if Smith, Davis, or the boy heard (or, more importantly, didn’t hear) police announce themselves before entering), but she says they did see raiding officers giving a Maye a severe beating after Officer Jones went down. That would explain why Maye was rushed off to a jail in Hattiesburg, some 45 miles away from Prentiss. It would also explain why Maye’s mother, Dorothy Funchess, was denied access to her son for two weeks after the raid. In fact, she was only given access after contacting the mayor of Hattiesburg (who happens to be black). At trial, officers roundly denied beating Maye after the raid, despite some photographic evidence to the contrary.
One other item that doesn’t paint the raiding officers in the most flattering light: The woman I spoke with also said that Cory’s 18-month-old daughter Ticorrianna was left alone on the bed screaming, for hours after the raid. Audrey Davis apparently attempted to pick her up to calm her down, but was reprimanded by police at the scene, and told to leave her be. It wasn’t until Chanteal Longino returned home from her night shift at the chicken plant in Hattiesburgh that anyone attempted to give the 18-month-old any consolation.
Smith and Davis could shed some light on all of this. But not only do Prentiss officials not know where the couple is, they don’t seem all that interested in finding them. Wonder why that is?
As I understand it, Smith and Davis are now somewhere on the West Coast, while “Jimmy,” now 19 or 20, is back in Prentiss, living with his mother. Unfortunately, I wasn’t abe to track down his last name.
If you’ll remember back to January, the town of Prentiss, Mississippi fired Bob Evans as its public defender. Evans says this came after the mayor of Prentiss, Charlie Dumas, had warned Evans back in December that if he continued to represent Cory Maye in his appeal, he’d lose his job. Dumas confirmed in January after the Prentiss Board of Aldermen fired Evans that his representation of Maye was indeed why the town would be replacing him.
And, if you’ll remember, I called Mayor Dumas, who confirmed only that he’d had a conversation with Evans subsequent to his firing, but wouldn’t confirm the details of the conversation (although he certainly didn’t deny Evans’ account). I also called all of the towns’ aldermen. I was only able to reach one, Sylvia Ward, who wouldn’t say much of anything to me, only that if I really wanted to know why Evans was fired, I should get a copy of the minutes of the board meeting where the decision was made.
Well, while I was down in Mississippi, I did manage to get my hands on those minutes. They’re dated January 31, 2006. Here’s the PDF.
Probably won’t surprise you to know that they don’t say a damned thing about why Evans was fired. The relevant language:
BOB EVANS, PUBLIC DEFENDERA motion was made by Harold Stamps, duly seconded by Willard Davis, to replace Bob Evans as Public Defender for the Town of Prentiss. Mayor Dumas called for a vote on the motion which carried unanimously. The board will re-appoint another attorney to this position.
I talked to a few peope around Prentiss, including one law enforcement officer, who told me point blank it’s fairly common knowledge among those with ties to local government that Evans was fired for representing Cory.
Seems, though, that town officials were too cowardly to include that reason in the official account of his termination. Perhaps that’s because they knew that what they were doing stunk.
It’s one thing for local officials to hope for a defendant’s conviction in a high-profile, highly-emotional case. It’s quite another to attempt to intimidate the public defender from even giving him fair representation.
I’ve been in Mississippi the last five days, researching a magazine piece on the Cory Maye case.
The magazine that sent me down there has given me permission to share with you some of what I found.
And I found quite a bit. Over the next week or so, I’ll have the results of the dozen or so interviews I did, as well as some pictures, and a few new angles to the case.
Once I get a new computer and software, I’m also hoping to put together my first podcast, which will feature an interview with Maye’s attorney, Bob Evans.
I’ve heard some whispers that CNN may be taking a look at the Cory Maye case.
More as I learn more.
And I’ll have much, much more on Cory’s case later this week.
Tomorrow, I’ll be discussing the case from 6 to 7pm ET (that’s 5 to 6pm local time) on 1180 WJNT in Jackson, Mississippi. You can listen here.
Also, yesterday I got in touch with Fox Butterfield, the longtime NY Times reporter (now retired) who briefly mentions the Maye case in this article, written in early 2002, about six weeks after the raid (see this post for background).
Butterfield could only remember the basics of the trip he took to Prentiss to report the article, but he did say that whatever facts he reported, including the wrong ones, would have been given to him by one of the two police officials he spoke with — Prentiss Police Chief Ronald Jones (now retired), or Jefferson Davis County Sheriff Henry McCullum.
So the conversation with Butterfield didn’t move the ball much either way. We’re still stuck with the fact that his article, written weeks after the raid, asserts that there was only one warrant (not two), and that it was for crack (not marijuana). Both of those facts contradict the police account of the raid at trial, and both contradict them in ways that suggest tampering with the warrants, and thus in ways that are favorable to Cory Maye.
But because Mr. Butterfield can’t recall the specifics of his reporting (and in his defense, the Prentiss story was jsut a small part, almost an aside, of a broader piece), we’re stuck wondering whether the facts reported in Butterfield’s piece were the result of misunderstanding (either on the part of Butterfield, or perhaps McCullum, who to my knowledge didn’t have much, if any, involvement in the raid or investigation) or something more sinister.
The Jackson Clarion-Ledger article from the weekend was picked up on the Associated Press wire, so it’s popped up in a few other newspapers, generally around the south.
One reader also tells me that the Mississippi talk radio stations are starting to chat about the case. Not sure what the consensus among the hosts is, but that they’re talking about it I guess is good in itself. If any talk show hosts in the state want to speak with me, please feel free to shoot me an email.
There were a couple of mistakes in the Clarion-Ledger article that I think are worth pointing out. They weren’t mistakes on the part of the reporter, but on the part of people quoted in the article. Both (probably not all that surprisingly) came from the prosecution. The first is here:
Assistant District Attorney Doug Miller said police knocked on Smith’s door and announced themselves. Miller said Smith surrendered to police, and he was charged with sale of cocaine.
To my knowledge, Smith was never charged for the marijuana found in his home, much less with the sale of cocaine. There seems to be no court records of Smith being charged or tried. In his answers to my questions, DA Buddy McDonald said he couldn’t recall if Smith was ever charged with a crime. In fact, no one in Prentiss at the moment has the slightest idea where Jaimie Smith is. The point here is that for all the talk about how the original intent of the raid was to “clean up Prentiss” from the scourge of drugs, the guy who by all indications was actually dealing drugs, and who was actual impetus for the raid, was never brought to trial.
The second mistake comes here:
Miller said officers testified they saw a light turned on inside Maye’s duplex.
Actually, only one officer testified about a light, and his testimony is that he saw a light on in the residence after someone jiggled the blinds. That’s a bit different than a light being actively turned on, which is the impression one might take away from the phrasing. Also, that officer’s testimony, particularly with regard to the blinds, has evolved over time, in ways that (again, not surprisingly) are unflattering to Cory’s case.
Finally, and perhaps most egregiously, there’s this:
In his trial, Maye testified he fired because he was trying to protect his daughter, but Miller said Maye “never explained why he put the baby on the bed in front of him.”
This is blatant misinformation from the prosecution. I suppose one could interpret Miller’s comment to meant that Maye positioned himself behind his daughter. But that’s clearly not the implication most would come away with. The phrase “he put the baby on the bed in front of him” implies that Cory physically moved his daughter into a position that put her in more peril, not less. There’s no evidence whatsoever of that. She was asleep on the bed. Cory left her there to sleep.
Miller’s attempt to seed the public with the notion that Maye intentionally put his daughter in peril is unfortunate, but it’s also par for the course for the prosecution. Remember, Buddy McDonald pursued a similar line of questioning with Cory on the stand.
Maye wasn’t the one who kicked in the door. The police did that. They initiated the confrontation. You could make a lot of arguments about what Maye should have done with his daughter once he knew intruders were attempting to kick in his door, though I doubt any of us could predict exactly what we would have done in such a situation. But leaving her be, asleep on the bed, doesn’t seem like a particularly bad choice, given the options.
The Jackson newspaper has a front-page story on Cory Maye today, including a bit on how many in the blogosphere have taken up his cause.
When I first came across the Cory Maye case, I found an article in Lexis from the New York Times that mentioned Maye, but only briefly, and only in the context of a larger story (the alleged spread of hard-core drugs to rural communities). I reread it a couple of days ago, and a few things jumped out at me. The article gets a couple of key facts about the case wrong, which is odd, because reporter Fox Butterfield is a crime reporter with 30+ years experience at the Times. What’s even more interesting is the way Butterfield gets key facts wrong. Here’s the article, from February 2002, six weeks after the raid. And here’s the excerpt concerning Maye:
On Dec. 26, in Prentiss, Officer Ron Jones, 29, called his father, Ronald N. Jones, the police chief, for permission to get a search warrant for an apartment where an informer had told him there was crack. An hour later, as Officer Jones led a team into the apartment, he was shot in the abdomen. The suspect in the shooting, Cory Maye, has been charged with capital murder.
“The hardest thing for me is that I’m the one who gave him the approval,” Chief Jones said.
His son had been taking classes in drug enforcement and was the town’s K-9 officer.
“He thought he could clean Prentiss up,” Chief Jones said. “He honestly gave his life trying to make a difference.”
I suppose it’s possible that Butterfield merely got his facts wrong, or ran with assumptions without first checking them out. But that seems unlikely. The questions that pop up from the article:
1) W hy would Butterfield have reported that an informant told Jones there was crack in the apartment? There’s no mention of crack anywhere in the search warrant or the affidavits. In fact, the only time the word “crack” shows up anywhere in this case is in that traces of a substance that was “possibly crack” were found in Jaimie Smith’s apartment.
2) Butterfield reports that the residence was an “apartment” and not a duplex, and he refers to a “warrant,” and not “warrants.”
In fact, a reader comes away from the Butterfield piece believing that Cory Maye was the crack-dealing target of the raid.
I suppose another possible, non-sinister possibility here is that Chief Jones or Sheriff McCullum (who Butterfield also quotes in the piece) merely got the details wrong.
But to my mind, Butterfield’s piece raises more suspicion about those warrants. Six weeks after the raid, a
Cooper believes there was only one warrant, for “known drug dealer” Jaimie Smith, and that the night of the raid, the raiding officers discovered there was someone living on the other side of the building only after Jones entered, and was shot by Cory Maye. The warrants were then altered after the fact to reflect what officers discovered after executing the raid — marijuana, not crack, and not one residence, but two.
This theory is bolstered by the fact that there is absolutely no record of Officer Jones’ investigation leading up to the raid. I’ve had several police officers email to tell me that it’s nearly unheard of for a police officer to keep no notes and no documentation of a drug investigation. The utter absence of a record of Jones’ investigation, then, is bothersome.
A couple of other facts support this theory. The first is the fact that Officer Jones entered Maye’s apartment with his gun still in its holster. It’s hard to believe that an officer who knows he’s entering a residence likely inhabited by a drug-dealer would do so without first drawing his gun. Leaving the gun holstered is more likely something an officer would do if entering what he believes is an unoccupied room in a home where the main suspect has already been apprehended and arrested.
The second is the fact that the officers who say they were charged with raiding Maye’s side of the duplex also say that after they couldn’t get entry through the front and back doors, they looked for a window. If you’re raiding a small apartment that you know to be occupied by a suspected drug dealer, and if you’ve already attempted to kick in two doors, and have repeatedly knocked and announced that you’re the police, and the suspect you know to be inside still hasn’t answered (remember, the officer testified that they saw Cory jiggle the blinds), why would you put yourself in the awkward position of meneuvering through a window to get inside? Seems to me that that would put the entering officer in a pretty vulnerable position.
This of course is all speculation. And as I’ve mentioned before, Maye’s current attorney, Bob Evans, doesn’t buy the idea that the warrants were altered or fabricated, mostly because that would have required the complicity of a judge Evans says is as straight and honest as they come.
But it has certainly happened before. I’ve researched several cases in which police have fabricated, altered, and otherwise manipulated warrants after the fact. And the botched facts in the Butterfield piece certainly raise more questions. It would be interesting to talk to Butterfield to see who (if anyone) in Prentiss gave him the bad information. The aticle’s chronological proximity to the raid and the way the information Butterfield relays from Prentiss officials jibes with Cooper’s theory certainly begs for more investigation. Butterfield left the Times a couple of years ago, and I can’t seem to find reliable contact information for him.
One other point: Butterfield’s piece says Ron Jones was taking classes on drug enforcement at the time of the raid. So the guy who did all of the investigation and actually lead the raid on the duplex that night was still learning how to do drug enforcement.
Now that Cory Maye has well-funded pro-bono representation, a few people have asked if it’s still worth making a donation to his defense fund.
I suppose the short answer to that is that if you’re interested only in paying for his defense, the answer is “no.” But if you’re really itching to do something to help, you might still consider giving.
I spoke with Bob Evans (still Maye’s chief counsel) last week about this. There are a couple of possibilities as to what would become of the defense fund. One is that it could simply be turned over to Cory should he ever be acquitted, pardoned, or granted clemency. Cory comes from an extremely poor family, and should he ever be released, it’s not likely he’ll have many prospects, or places to go. I’ve spoken a bit with some of the leftist groups on this. Seems to me one of the best things they could do is to give the guy a fresh start, and make sure that the hardening that almost certainly comes with a five or seven or ten year stint on death row doesn’t push Cory down the wrong tract if and when he gets out.
Should things not turn out so well for Cory, another possibility would be to turn the fund into a college fund for Cory’s two kids, including the little girl who was in the house the night of the raid.
Cory Maye has been granted a 60-day continuance on his hearing for a new trial.
The continuance was requested by his Covington and Burling legal team so they could send a team of researchers and investigators to Mississippi in preparation of a new brief for the hearings.
Email from the Fox column is running overwhelming in favor of Cory Maye. I’d estimate about 4-1. That’s a pleasant, heartening surprise.
My mention of Tookie Williams brought a lot of criticims, even from people who sympathized with Maye. I suppose if a large sample of people missed my point, it’s probably my fault for not making it clear enough. But I mentioned Tookie to specifically draw a distinction between his case and Maye’s. Hence, the sentence “He’s no Tookie Williams.”
The second mention came right after a sentence about how this case should unite both left and right. My point there was to say that if the left was willing to defend a thug like Tookie, surely they should be ready to rally to the cause of someone like Maye.
More than a few people thought I was trying to evoke sympathy for Tookie. On the contrary. I’m opposed to the death penalty. But beyond general opposition to capital punishment, Tookie’s execution didn’t bother me in the least.
After the break, a sampling of email.
Apologies for the lack of editing and formatting.
am was just on WBAL-Baltimore right now discussing Cory Maye.
And that’s terrific news.
Kerr’s a highly regarded legal scholar, professor at the George Washington University School of Law, and a blogger at the Volokh Conspiracy.
That Kerr’s lending his expertise to Cory’s case I think speaks volumes about how his cause is cutting across ideological lines. I don’t think Kerr would object to being called a consistent but thoughtful law-and-order conservative.
And Abe Pafford, the associate who first brought the case to the attention of the partners at Covington and Burling, went to Liberty University (founded by Jerry Falwell), and first learned of the case courtesy of this post by Jonathan Adler at National Review Online.
On the other end of the spectrum, last week I met with the folks at the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. They say Cory’s case is drawing attention among leftist groups, too, including the ACLU, Amnesty, and the NAACP.
The group I’d most like to hear from is the NRA. Seems to me this would be a gut-check case for them.