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Brookhaven police chief: ‘I hope God gives them courage’ — Witnesses need to come forward if murders are to be solved

Brookhaven Police Chief Kenneth Collins said he knows who the murderers are in the city.

They wave to him when he passes them. He waves back. There’s nothing else he can do until someone comes forward with the information that he can use to make arrests and convictions that will stick.

He knows, too, that fear plays a factor in the silence. But to have a better, safer Brookhaven, it’s going to take courage.

“If you’re afraid to live, then that’s not living at all,” he said. “People are afraid and I understand. They’re afraid of getting hurt and someone coming by and hurting somebody in their family.”

He worries that Brookhaven could eventually be taken over by the criminals.

“People are scared and afraid and before you know it the criminal element has taken over your community,” he said. “It can get so bad, you can’t walk down the road. Unless people come forward, this is what you’ll get.”

2015 was a violent year. Many of the murders committed that year are still unsolved. Police continue to work the cases, looking for new leads and information. People have information that could solve those cases, he said.

“If you’re sitting back and you saw somebody kill somebody, or you saw somebody rob a bank or somebody rob somebody, and you saw it happen. And yet you go to the funeral and you’re crying with the families that lost people but you’re sitting back and you knowing all the time who did it. What’s life without having quality of life? I hope God gives them courage to step forward and keep our town safe,” he said.

District Attorney Dee Bates wants the public to come forward as well. Without sufficient evidence, murderers walk the streets because they can’t be convicted. A Lincoln County grand jury won’t indict someone without enough evidence to bring on a conviction.

“If there is any help the community can give us. If anyone sees something it’s important to notify the law enforcement,” he said. “It’s very important to have the community’s support and assistance, because what you see on in ‘NCIS’ is fiction. Real police work happens when we get help from the community.”

Bates said cases aren’t ever closed, until someone has been prosecuted and found guilty.

Some witnesses have given tips anonymously to CrimeStoppers, and Bates appreciates that. But to get a conviction, law enforcement needs more.

“Random phone calls to CrimeStoppers without any way to follow up on it is very difficult in presenting evidence to a jury,” he said. “CrimeStoppers is an asset, it has been an asset in the past to obtain information. If someone feels like they need to call CrimeStoppers I encourage them to do that. I also encourage them to contact the Brookhaven Police Department and speak with them and make sure they understand the nature of what they’ve heard or saw and please report it.”

He believes it’s the public’s moral duty to help law enforcement.

“Some may be scared. I do understand that. I have compassion for those who have fear, but it comes down to what type of society do we want to live in,” he said. “We should all respect human life. And when a human’s life has been taken early and unjustly, then it’s a moral obligation, I believe, to actually help the family of the deceased to find closure.”

Bates said adults should feel safe to walk in their neighborhoods with their children and grandchildren.

“That’s the ideal society we want, it’s not the other,” he said. “Next week, it could be in your backyard. It’s very important that if anyone knows anything, please report it. Brookhaven is a wonderful town, there’s actually no question about it. We’ve had a period of a time of violence, but it’s not indicative of what the town really is. The one thing we really want to do is hold those people that are violent accountable and to remove them from our society. We’ll have a peaceful community. It’s what everyone desires.”

Bates said his office met with Collins, Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing and several of their investigators at the beginning of the year to look at unsolved murders from 2015, 2016 and 2017. The cases are reviewed each month and as tips come in.

Below are the cases from those years that either remain unsolved, the suspects are waiting for trial or the suspects likely won’t be indicted for the crime.

2015

Aquarius Nelson

Cordarryl Bell is accused of the murder of Aquarius Nelson, who was killed Nov. 2, 2015. Bell, of 510 East Congress St., was indicted for the first-degree murder of Nelson and aggravated assault of Christopher Stringer. His trial has been continued several times and is set for April.

Glen Mack

Pierre Thomas was arrested for the July 2015 murder of Glen Mack, but a grand jury in April refused to indict him. Bates said if additional evidence is found, the case could be presented to a grand jury again.

“A grand jury cannot indict someone on mere speculation. They need evidence that is admissible in court that an individual can be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt,” he said.

Kelcay Humphrey

The man charged in the shooting death of Kelcay Humphrey was also not indicted by a grand jury. Claudis D. Montgomery was released from Lincoln County jail after a grand jury refused to indict him. Montgomery was charged with murder on July 7, 2015, after the July 5, 2015, shooting of Humphrey at Cloverdale Apartments. Police estimated that he was shot between eight and 12 times. Humphrey had been convicted of manslaughter for shooting a man at Cloverdale in 2008. He had been sentenced to 15 years for manslaughter in that shooting but was on earned release supervision at the time of his death.

“If you know anything, please don’t make an assumption that law enforcement is aware of it,” Bates said. “We need support from the community to actually obtain information. It’s very important for our community, and it’s very important for the family. The loved ones of these families need closure.”

Word on the street is hearsay. It’s not admissible in court.

“Everyone can say this is the individual that did it, but law enforcement and myself needs a witness who either heard or saw it, and if they didn’t hear it or see it then it’s inadmissible and you have absolutely no evidence,” he said. “What the community hears as rumor is inadmissible in court.”

To return an indictment and sustain a conviction is the goal.

“We need witnesses who will assist us. We need individuals who will be willing to come forward,” he said.

Humphrey’s widow, Shanitra, told The Daily Leader in December 2016 that she believes the person who killed him is still in the area and that makes her fearful for her and her children’s lives. The family believes that Humphrey’s murder is being overlooked due to his conviction of manslaughter.

Bridget London Hall

No arrests have been made in the case of Bridget London Hall, a 43-year-old single mother who died after being shot multiple times at close range in her Vivian Merritt Street home July 6, 2015. Witnesses said she was killed by someone who came to her door shortly after 10 p.m. at night.

Her shooting came scarcely 24 hours after Humphrey’s shooting and death.

Montgomery was charged with murder in Humphrey’s death the next day. Montgomery’s brother, Claude, was London Hall’s boyfriend, according to media reports.

Sharon London, of Birmingham, Alabama, believes her sister’s death was a warning to someone else. She thinks she died in retaliation for Humphrey’s death. Police have not confirmed or denied that the cases are related.

Kimberly Brown Jones

Kimberly Yolanda Jones, 46, of 28 Curtis Brown Lane, Monticello, was found dead on Jan. 12, 2015, at 933 Crooked Lane, but police do not believe she was killed there. Jones’ boyfriend, James Haines, was charged in the murder but not indicted. Haines was ultimately released from the county jail June 1.

Julian Gayten and Jaquarius Jones

The two men died after shooting each other Christmas Eve, 2015. It appears that Jones was attempting to commit a robbery, according to police. Marionne Keys was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit robbery and conspiracy after the fact to commit murder after police said she had discussed robbing the Gayten residence with Jones through text messages, while she had also been in contact with Gayten.

Police said at the time that she pitted Gayten and Jones against each other.

The case remains under investigation.

Gayten’s mother, Elmira Gayten, says her son’s murder was not drug related. She believes it was a home invasion because he’d received several thousand dollars from an insurance settlement.

“The main suspect is deceased,” Bates said. “Mrs. Gayten provided information to law enforcement and that’s being followed up on. If anyone else knows anything in the community we would love for them to come to Brookhaven Police Department and give that information to them.”

Elmira Gayten said she believes there are still people involved in death who should be punished and she will continue to fight for justice for her son.

“If I have to lose my life to stand up for justice than so be it,” she said. “I’m not going to give up until justice is served.”

2016

Lance “Tyrone” Mackbee

Lance “Tyrone” Mackbee, 25, was found in a car on South Center Street around 3 a.m., Oct. 26, 2016, where he was pronounced on the scene. He’d been shot multiple times. Travis Antonio Brinson, of Brookhaven, was charged, but later released.

“No one has been indicted for that particular case,” Bates said.

2017

The Memorial Day Weekend murders: William Durr,  Barbara Mitchell, Tocarra May, Brenda May, Austin Edwards, Jordan Blackwell, Ferral Burage and Sheila Burage

A Lincoln County grand jury has not heard the case of a man accused of killing eight people over Memorial Day weekend in 2017.

Willie Cory Godbolt, 35, remains in jail without bond, waiting for the jury to hear his case and decide if he will be indicted, Bates said.

The Bogue Chitto man is charged with capital murder in the death of Lincoln County deputy William Durr and seven counts of first degree murder in the deaths of his mother-in-law and six others who were his relatives or acquaintances.

Witnesses have said the fatal shootings May 27 and May 28 started after Godbolt was arguing with his estranged wife.

Chester Hanks

Evelyn Hanks, 81, called 911 March 18, 2017, requesting an ambulance at her residence on Furrs Mill Road near Lake Lincoln. Deputies and first responders found the woman in the living room and she’d been shot in the chest with a handgun. She told authorities her husband was in the bedroom and might be dead.

Her husband, Chester Hanks, 83, was pronounced dead at the scene. He’d also been shot with a handgun. Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said in March based on the information she provided deputies, the case remains under investigation by as a murder-attempted suicide.

Bates said he did not expect Hanks to be indicted by a grand jury.

Cody A. Newell

Cody A. Newell, 25, was pronounced dead at his home in West Lincoln June 18, 2017, by paramedics. Newell’s wife had extensive physical injuries, Rushing said at the time. She was taken to KDMC and later transferred to a hospital in Jackson.

She was identified as Jamie Newell in her husband’s obituary.

Deputies received the call at 12:40 a.m. Rushing said Newell’s wife went to her neighbor’s house and said she’d been physically assaulted and that she’d shot her husband in their home. Deputies arrived on the scene and found Newell’s body. He’d been shot at least once with a handgun, which was recovered at the scene.

Bates did not expect Newell to be indicted by a grand jury.

Billy Ray Thomas

Billy Ray Thomas was shot and killed Nov. 24, 2017, inside the Oasis Club on Martin Street at South First Street in Brookhaven.

Seven other people were shot following a verbal altercation inside the club. Justin Anderson was charged with murder and seven counts of aggravated assault.

MURDERS

2015

Aquarius Nelson*

Glen Mack

Kelcay Humphrey

Kimberly Brown Jones

Bridget London Hall

Julian Gayten

Jaquarius Jones

2016

Lance “Tyrone” Mackbee

2017

William Durr*

Barbara Mitchell*

Tocarra May*

Brenda May*

Austin Edwards*

Jordan Blackwell*

Ferral Burage*

Sheila Burage*

Chester Hanks

Cody A. Newell

Billy Ray Thomas *

* Arrest made

Editors note: Story has been updated to correct Justin Anderson’s charges. He is charged with murder and seven counts of aggravated assault and remains in Lincoln County jail.