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Convicts’ psych evaluations unfinished

Two Lincoln County men — sentenced to life in prison in separate cases — remain incarcerated pending psychological exams that could free them.

Lorenzo Washington was sentenced for the 2007 murder of his aunt.

Jerrard T. Cook was convicted of murder in 2001 for the death of Marvin Terrel Durr.

Both were 17 at the time of their crimes.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of Miller v. Alabama which held that “mandatory life without parole on those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’”

Washington took his 81-year-old aunt’s car without permission. When family called the sheriff’s office to report the car missing, their primary concern was that the aunt, Marie Pendilton, was missing as well.

When sheriff’s deputies responded to the call around 11:15 a.m., family and law enforcement found something unexpected – the body of Pendilton, in the edge of the woods in the backyard of her home on Old Saint John’s Road.

She was pronounced dead at the scene. County Coroner Clay McMorris said there were signs of trauma on the body, but an autopsy would have to be performed by the state crime lab before he could say officially what caused her death.

Deputies found the missing vehicle at a nearby abandoned residence. Washington had returned to scene by this time, and was arrested.

Seven months later, Washington, then age 18, stood before Judge David Strong and pleaded guilty to murdering his aunt.

Assistant District Attorney Diane Jones presented arguments that Washington had repeatedly struck Pendilton on the head with a hammer, though without premeditation, perhaps 12 hours prior to the discovery of her body.

According to Circuit Clerk Terry Lynn Watkins, when Strong asked Washington if he thought the state could prove its case against him, the teen said he felt they could.

Because he had pleaded guilty, Strong sentenced Washington to life in prison, though he would be eligible for parole at age 65.

Nearly seven years later, Washington’s court-appointed attorney Matt Kitchens petitioned the court to have a psychological examination performed on two of his clients, Washington and Cook.

Cook was arrested in connection with the shooting death of Durr on June 18, 2002. The murder occurred after Cook and Cearic Barnes flagged down Durr’s car with the intent to drive it to McComb to commit a robbery.  After he let the two men out of his car, Durr turned around and was headed home when he was flagged down again by Cook. Cook shot Durr once in the head with a .380 pistol that he’d stolen from his uncle.

“When he pleaded guilty,” said District Attorney Dee Bates of Cook, “he did it to avoid the death penalty potentially.”

Kitchens filed motions to vacate the life without parole sentences of Washington and Cook based on the fact that both were 17 when they committed their crimes. Individuals who committed crimes while under the age of 18 and were subsequently sentenced to life without the possibility of parole prior to the 2012 Supreme Court ruling must undergo psychological evaluations before their sentences can be reevaluated by the courts of Mississippi.

Strong approved Kitchens’ requests for mental evaluations of his clients, and both men were scheduled for the exams in late 2014. Neither case has yet been brought back to the court by Kitchens.

“Hearings are still pending, waiting for the defense to ask for hearings,” said Bates. Until then, these cases remain as they are, and the convicted remain where they are – behind bars serving life sentences.

Bates said he personally felt that the Miller v. Alabama ruling had negatively affected many people across the nation. “This has had repercussions across the country,” he said, “and re-victimizes the families of victims.”

Other cases on the docket set for trial in Strong’s courtroom include:

• Henry Cheramie — first and second degree arson; arraignment set for week of May 4.

• Diedra Hall — exploitation of vulnerable adult; arraignment set for week of May 4.

• Timothy Lyons — felony bad check; trial set for week of May 9.

• Joshua Lee Holifield — touching, handling, etc. a child for lustful purposes; sexual battery; trial set for week of May 9.

• Jaymon D. Nunnery — sexual battery; trial set for week of May 9.

• Kristi L. Brister — failure to support minor children; trial set for week of May 9.

• Justin Aldridge — failure to support minor children; trial set for week of May 9.

• Jeremy Wayne Cupstid — second degree murder; trial set for week of May 9.

• Helen Jean Mercier — embezzlement; trial set for week of May 9.

• Randy Horton —welfare fraud, three counts; trial set for week of Aug. 3.

Cases on the docket set for trial in Judge Michael Taylor’s courtroom include:

• John Paul Dunaway — touching, handling, two counts; continued to appoint attorney.

• Albert Charles Thomas — kidnapping; trial set for week of March 28.

• Christopher Leigh Hamilton — attempted murder, two counts; shooting into a motor vehicle; trial set for week of March 28.

• James Henry Cason — fondling of vulnerable person; trial set for week of March 28.

• Adan Reyes —home repair fraud; hearing set for April 3.

• Elijah Kelly — touching, handling; omitted from docket; hearing reset for April 3.

• Cordarryl Lamond Bell — first degree murder; trial continued to April 4.

• Clarence Johnson Sr. — operating chop shop; conspiracy, five counts; conspiracy to possess a motor vehicle with VIN removed, three counts; third degree arson; omnibus hearing set for April 10.

• Clifford Moses — attempted incest; omnibus hearing set for April 10.

• Charlotte Walker — embezzlement; motion plea set for April 10.

• Cody Robinson — felony child abuse , two counts; motion plea set for April 10.

• Jerry K. Thompson — shooting into dwelling, kidnapping; motion plea set for April 10.

• Lester Williams — touching handling; trial continued to May 9.

• Jamaal Brown — capital murder; trial reset for week of June 12.

• Troy Lee Moak — first degree arson; trial set for week of June 13. 

Lorenzo Washington

Jerrard T. Cook