Godbolt gets two days of hearings

Published 9:45 pm Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Prosecutors and public defenders spent Wednesday questioning witnesses about their recollections the morning an injured Willie Cory Godbolt was captured near East Lincoln Road in 2017 after the fatal shooting of eight people, including a sheriff’s deputy.

The motion hearing in the capital murder case will continue today before Judge David Strong in Lincoln County Circuit Court.

Godbolt, of Bogue Chitto, is represented by Alison Steiner and Katie Poor of the Office of State Public Defender. They are asking the court to exclude evidence from his capital murder trial including everything the defendant said to law enforcement officers during his arrest, on the ambulance ride to University of Mississippi Medical Center and his hospitalization there and his transport from there to Copiah County. They’re also asking to suppress conversations with MBI agents May 30, 2017, and an agent during a jail-initiated mental health screening in June, 2017.

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Steiner and Poor have also filed motions to suppress evidence found during searches and seizure of Godbolt’s car, home, cell phones and cell provider data as well as any other things or places “arguably within Mr. Godbolt’s expectation of privacy that were searched and seized from other places and things.”

And they have requested the suppression of materials “that have been destroyed or have not yet been introduced” that are relevant to the suppression motion hearings, according to court documents.

Most of the questioning Wednesday revolved around video footage taken by newspaper reporter Therese Apel who was at the scene of Godbolt’s arrest by Lincoln County Sheriff’s deputies May 28, 2017.

At one point on the cell phone video, between 6:35 a.m. and 7:05 a.m., Godbolt is heard saying, “I’ve been shot. I’ve been shot. I just want to love my wife. I just want to love my family. I just want to love my kids. Live and let live. Live and let live.”

The eight victims were shot to death between the night of May 27, 2017, and the morning of May 28, 2017, at three locations — Lee Drive, Coopertown Road and East Lincoln Road. Godbolt was arrested by law enforcement near Super Jack’s at East Lincoln Road and Hwy. 84 as he was walking away from an East Lincoln Road home.

Godbolt sat between his two attorneys, showing little or no emotion as he watched the video. Strong had allowed a deputy to remove his handcuff on his right hand and he took notes during the hearing, which he would share with Poor and Steiner.

During questioning from both sides, a dozen witnesses, including law enforcement, a crime scene investigator and Apel, were asked to recall the scene and activities they saw at the three locations.

Before Apel took the stand, media law attorney Leonard Van Slyke presented a proposed protective order for her testimony.

Apel told Steiner when she arrived at the scene on East Lincoln, she saw Godbolt subdued on the ground and started her camera on the way to him.

Apel testified that Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Master Sgt. Damian Gatlin, who is now McComb police chief, read Godbolt his rights but “he talked through the whole thing.”

Godbolt asked Apel if she was a police officer while she was recording him with her cell phone and she told him twice she was media.

Poor asked Apel who called her to tip her off to the shooting that morning. Van Slyke pointed to Apel’s First Amendment right and objected to her being asked to reveal a confidential source. Poor argued it deprived Godbolt’s ability to have a fair trial.

Apel was removed from the courtroom so the conversation between Poor and Van Slyke could continue. Poor said the source’s identity was relevant because it was important to know if Apel had been directed to the scene by law enforcement.

Strong reminded Poor that Apel had already said it was not law enforcement that had called her.

“She answered those questions,” Strong said.

Several law enforcement officers testified about what they saw occur while Godbolt was handcuffed including Patrick Hardy, who is now principal at Alexander Jr. High. He was a Lincoln County deputy at the time he pulled up to Super Jack’s at East Lincoln and saw Godbolt walking toward him. He made the arrest.

Hardy, who also accompanied Godbolt to UMMC, was asked by the defense what Godbolt told him while he had him down on the ground.

He paraphrased Godbolt’s statement.

“People wouldn’t let him love his family and people had to die,” he said. “His anger was not meant for the deputy, that he just wanted to be with his wife and kids. He just kept saying it over and over.”

Deputy Kelly Porter, who is also an elected Lincoln County constable, testified he heard Godbolt talking about deputy William Durr, who arrived at the Lee Drive home in Bogue Chitto May 27, 2019, to answer a domestic disturbance call. Durr, 36, along with Barbara Mitchell, 55, her daughter, Tocarra May, 35, and Mitchell’s sister Brenda May, 53, were killed at that address. Barbara Mitchell was Godbolt’s mother-in-law.

“(He said) it wasn’t supposed to happen. He wasn’t supposed to be there. People intervened. Or something along those lines,” Porter said.

Anna Savrock, a crime scene investigator for the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations, arrived at the Lee Drive scene after driving from Biloxi when she was called at 3:11 a.m., to document and preserve evidence. She’d been told it was multiple homicides and multiple scenes.

Poor asked Savrock if a search warrant had been processed before she obtained evidence.

She said she is not dispatched to a scene unless a warrant has been processed or it’s in the works. She suspects if it hadn’t been signed by a judge when she was called, it would have been by the time she arrived three hours later.

“The ink will be dry by the time we get there,” she said.

Gatlin testified he arrived at East Lincoln Road and volunteered to be on the scene of the homicide until he realized the victims were his friends, Ferral Burage, 45, and Sheila Burage, 46.

He became visibly upset while watching Apel’s video showing him with Godbolt.

Gatlin said he was told that Godbolt asked for him specifically, calling him “Sarge.”

“I didn’t at the time want to speak to him,” he said. However, Godbolt warned officers that victims “were perishing” and he’d give them information if they’d let him sit up.

Gatlin said he read him his rights before he started talking to him and that Godbolt answered that he understood his rights. After they helped the handcuffed Godbolt sit up, Gatlin realized he had lied and became emotional and walked away.

Gatlin said he knew “those two babies” who were killed at Coopertown Road — Austin Edwards, 11, and his cousin, Jordan Blackwell, 18.

The law enforcement officers questioned Wednesday all said it did not appear Godbolt was mistreated while handcuffed, that no excessive force was used and that he was not coerced or promised anything for statements.

Strong ended the hearing at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday. Questioning will continue today at 9 a.m.