Murder suspect confesses

Published 5:00 am Monday, June 26, 2000

MONTICELLO – A Brookhaven man confessed Friday afternoonto the murder of a Monticello woman Wednesday.

Sheriff Joel Thames said James A. McNeese Jr. 29,confessed to the murder of Tanya Mullins Smith, 26, during aninterrogation at the Lawrence County Jail.

“From the initial beginning of the interview he statedhe wanted to confess,” Thames said. “He gave us a total confessionwithout any hesitation.”

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Smith was found in her Monticello home Wednesdaymorning. She had been stabbed 16 times, most of the wounds were inher torso, Thames said.

“Only the last one would have been fatal,” he said. “Thefirst fifteen were superficial. They were puncture wounds, notslashes.”

The last blow was delivered to the heart, Thamessaid.

Thames said the autopsy also determined that Smith was12 weeks pregnant. Smith was at home with her 11-month-old babywhile her husband Clarence Smith, was working in Denham Springs,La.

Thames said McNeese’s confession agrees with the knownfacts in the case. According to Thames, McNeese said he ran out ofgas north of the house and went to borrow money from Smith. Shedeclined and they began to argue at the front door. McNeese pushedhis way inside the house and the argument progressed into aphysical altercation. During the fight, McNeese grabbed a serratedkitchen knife off of a kitchen counter and began stabbingSmith.

After the fight, McNeese locked the door to the houseand took Smith’s car. He filled up the gas tank at a Monticelloconvenience store and drove off without paying. He drove around”for awhile” and returned to Smith’s house, where he broke inthrough a window and stole some guns.

Authorities in Lawrence, Jefferson Davis and MarionCounties, as well as other statewide agencies, began searching forMcNeese Thursday. He was captured Friday morning at 5:30 a.m. inJefferson Davis County by officers from several law enforcementagencies after being spotted several times during the search bycitizens.

Thames said he appreciated the assistance of the localcitizens and the many law enforcement agencies involved in thesearch and capture.

“It doesn’t make things easier for the family, but atleast it helps bring closure,” the sheriff said. “Unless he tries alegal maneuver now, it won’t even go to trial.”

Thames said McNeese is charged with capital murderbecause he had also committed the felony of forcing his way intothe Smith home.

Thames said with the confession, McNeese will proceeddirectly to the sentencing phase of a trial. It is possible, buthighly unlikely, Thames said, for McNeese to be sentenced duringthe current circuit court term, which lasts for two moreweeks.