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Lincoln County murder trial gets 4th delay

The trial of a Brookhaven man facing first-degree murder charges has been delayed for a fourth time and will be held in Tylertown instead of Lincoln County.

Jesse Scott Smith, 41, remains in the Lincoln County Jail on a $500,000 bond. He is charged in the April 21, 2018, death of 42-year-old John Bennett of Brookhaven in Bennett’s home on Smith Lake Road. Smith, of 1360 Field Lark Lane, was arrested April 22, 2018.

Defense attorney Tangi Carter requested later trial dates in April, May, August and most recently Sept. 24. The defense is working to secure cell phone records and ballistics reports.

Lincoln County Circuit Judge David Strong granted the latest continuance, setting the murder trial for May 19 and moving the trial to the Walthall County Courthouse.

According to court and newspaper reports, Bennett returned to his home April 20, 2018, about 8 p.m. after visiting with his parents. Leon Bennett Jr. said Smith and others were with his son at the time.

Smith, arraigned in September 2018, pleaded not guilty before Strong.

At a hearing in November, the court scheduled Smith to stand trial in early February, following all pre-trial motions and the receipt of the state’s final autopsy report. After continuances granted by Strong due to a delay in receiving that report, trial was rescheduled to begin in June. The lack of the ballistics report pushed the trial to August.

Carter, Smith’s attorney, argued in January for a change of venue, claiming news of the murder and Smith’s arrest had been published in The Daily Leader and “extensively on social media,” making it “particularly difficult to get a fair trial.”

Strong denied the motion, but instead ordered a jury from Walthall County to be empaneled to hear the case at the Lincoln County Courthouse. In the court order Strong signed Sept. 24, the proceedings have been moved to the Walthall County Courthouse in Tylertown. No explanation for the change of venue was included in the order.