Judge denies Godbolt attorney’s request to reschedule trial date, moves proceedings to Pike County

Published 11:34 pm Friday, November 15, 2019

A Lincoln County circuit judge has denied an accused killer’s request to delay his capital murder trial set to begin in February although he did move the proceedings to a Pike County courtroom.

Judge David Strong signed an order Thursday that denied the motion by Willie Cory Godbolt’s defense team to push back the trial date at least six months to allow for “adequate counsel.”

Strong also ordered that after the jury is seated in Desoto County all proceedings will take place in the Pike County Courthouse located in Magnolia. That courtroom, located in the county seat, is larger than the courtroom on the second floor of the Lincoln County-Brookhaven Government Complex. The Lincoln County circuit courtroom can seat about 90 people during a trial.

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Godbolt, 37, is charged with four counts of capital murder, four counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and kidnapping charges in connection with the May 27 and 28, 2017, killings of eight people from Bogue Chitto to Brookhaven. He was arrested early on May 28, 2017, and has been held in the Copiah County Jail ever since, making several short appearances in court for status hearings.

In the order, Strong said “the court, having heard and considered all relevant evidence including arguments of counsel, does find that the motion is not well taken and should be denied.”

Allison Steiner, with the capital defense counsel division of the state public defender’s office, filed a motion to reset the trial date Sept. 29.

“Feb. 10 is impossible,” she argued in Strong’s courtroom during a hearing Oct. 29.

She said when the trial date was originally set, former Lincoln County Public Defender Jason Tate was part of the defense team along with Allison Poor with the state public defender’s office. Poor, who recently had a baby, is on maternity leave. Tate left the county public defender’s office in July.

Steiner said Tate’s departure leaves them unable to prepare adequately with a team that has the experience and training required by the Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure, despite Hazlehurst attorney M.A. Bass Jr. joining the defense team in August as third chair.

Godbolt, an indigent defendant, must be appointed a defense team capable of providing effective representation consistent with the guidelines for such representation and she could not have one ready.

She indicated that if the date isn’t changed, an appeals court will likely agree that she was not ready and find error.

“I think the court will be trying this again,” she said.

The state argued in its written response filed Oct. 1 that Godbolt is represented by Steiner, Poor and Bass Jr., who is employed by the Lincoln County Public Defender’s office. Bass was appointed to the team Aug. 29.

District Attorney Dee Bates’ office is prosecuting other murder cases in District 14, which covers Walthall, Pike and Lincoln counties.

“The State of Mississippi has at all times maintained that it will be ready for trial. Additionally, the state would show a delay in this case would jeopardize the rights of other defendants presently charged,” wrote Assistant District Attorney Robert Byrd.

At the Aug. 29 hearing, Strong ruled that Godbolt could be furnished a fourth attorney of their choosing, “so long as this did not cause the trial to be continued beyond the Feb. 10, 2019, setting.”

Court records show that on Oct. 21, the Strong approved a request for reimbursement of funds for Bass to attend a required seminar in Arkansas.

Bass will be reimbursed for the cost of the seminar registration, room and board and travel expenses when the bill is submitted to the court.

In Strong’s order Thursday, he found that Bass has completed the legal requirements to sit as second chair in the matter and the judge appointed him as counsel of record for the defendant.