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Prosecution will seek death for Godbolt, who claims not guilty

The state will seek the death penalty against Willie Cory Godbolt, who pleaded not guilty to all charges against him Monday in an arraignment in Lincoln County Circuit Court.

District attorney Dee Bates was tight-lipped with details after the short hearing, which consisted of a long reading of the 12 charges against Godbolt — including capital murder, first-degree murder and lesser crimes — and the entering of Godbolt’s not guilty plea. When asked about his office’s decision to seek the death penalty, he promised only to let the court process work to completion.

“We have to deal with the guilt phase first, then we’ll deal with the sentencing,” he said.

Godbolt is on trial for his alleged role in a mass shooting that took the lives of eight people, including a Lincoln County Sheriff’s deputy, on the night of May 27 and 28, 2017.

The capital murder charges stem from the deaths of Lincoln County Sheriff’s deputy William Durr, 36; Brookhaven High School student Jordan Blackwell, 18; Lipsey student Austin Edwards, 11; and Shelia Burage, 46.

The first-degree murder charges are related to the deaths of Brenda May, 53; Toccara May, 35; Barbara Mitchell, 55; and Ferral Burage, 45. Godbolt is also accused of attempted murder for allegedly shooting at Lincoln County Sheriff’s deputy Timothy Kees, and is accused of kidnapping Xavier Lilly and another victim. He is accused of armed robbery for taking a 2015 Kia vehicle.

Capital murder charges are brought against a suspect when murder is committed during the commission of another crime. In the case of Blackwell, Edwards and Burage, the other crime was burglary. The charge of capital murder in Durr’s death is because he was a law enforcement officer acting in his official capacity.

Bates said prosecutors are still waiting for autopsy reports and ballistics data from the Mississippi Crime Lab, which will be shared with public defender Jason Tate, who is representing Godbolt, before circuit judge David Strong sets a trial date. He had no time frame for the reports, and declined to comment on other aspects for the case

“We need to protect (Godbolt’s) constitutional rights, and that’s what we’re gonna do,” he said.

A status hearing is scheduled for May 3 at 9 a.m. According to the Associated Press, Tate said he will seek a change of venue for the trial.

Members of the half-dozen families affected by the killings filled up the seats in the courtroom Monday, passing around a few boxes of tissue as the charges were read aloud.

They wept in turn, each family sobbing harder, then falling away, as the surnames changed from accusation to accusation, describing how their loved ones left the earth by acts committed willfully, unlawfully and feloniously.

Godbolt stood silently, unmoving, with his face up to the light throughout the hearing. His big frame was shrunken, his wide, round face now narrow and square — onlookers estimated the past 10 months in the Copiah County Jail had cost him around 100 pounds (the law in Copiah County says it’s 30 pounds). His hair was cut down into a square buzz, and his beard was trimmed and neatly lined. He never spoke.

After the hearing adjourned, family members gathered privately with a victim advocate in an adjacent courtroom. None wished to speak upon leaving the courthouse.