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McNeese pleads, gets life in prison

James A. McNeese plead guilty to capital murder in PoplarvilleMonday and was sentenced to life in prison.

McNeese was charged with the murder of Tanya Mullins Smith, 26,while committing a robbery at the Smith residence on June 21,2000.

McNeese’s decision to plead was made at the last moment,according to Lawrence County Sheriff Joel Thames.

“He said Friday he wouldn’t plead, but apparently thought betterof it during the weekend,” Thames said. “Monday was his deadline toplea. After Monday, prosecutors were going to seek the deathpenalty.”

McNeese, who was 30 at the time of the crime, stabbed Smith 16times, mostly in the torso, with a serrated kitchen knife.

Smith was 12 weeks pregnant when she was killed.

Her husband, Clarence Smith, was away working in Denham Springs,La., and Tanya Smith’s body was found by a friend, Jane BellSelman. Selman also found the couple’s 11-month-old baby, who wasunharmed.

According to sources at the time, McNeese had run out of gasnear Smith’s home and went there to borrow money because she wasthe wife of a cousin. She declined and McNeese forced his way intothe house, where they fought.

During the fight, McNeese picked up a kitchen knife off thecounter and began stabbing Smith.

McNeese drove off in Smith’s 1997 white Grand Am GT and waspursued by officers for nearly 48 hours before being arrested inJefferson Davis County. At some point during the on-again off-againpursuit, McNeese ditched the Grand Am and stole a Ford Bronco,which was recovered near where he was arrested.