• 63°

Do the right thing

“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” That’s what Dolly Parton’s Truvy Jones says in “Steel Magnolias” after Julia Roberts’ character dies.

But that’s just a movie. This is real life.

A man is on trial for killing seven members of his wife’s family — his family — as well as a deputy sent to protect them.

In seven straight days of testimony there has been laughter, but there have been plenty of tears, too.

Chief Deputy Johnny Hall has visited his share of crime scenes, with both personal and professional connections. “Scooby” is a big, tough guy, but he broke down on the witness stand when asked about 18-year-old Jordan Blackwell, a heralded linebacker for the Ole Brook Panthers and someone he knew from New Zion Union Missionary Baptist Church in Bogue Chitto. He was a cousin to Blackwell as well as to Cory Godbolt, the man accused of his murder.

Jordan was one of the eight people shot to death in a night of terror in May of 2017, killed by a lone gunman. Except for Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy William Durr, all of the victims worshiped at New Zion, where Jordan’s grandfather and father preached.

Hall also shed tears for 11-year-old Austin Edwards, Jordan’s cousin, who died alongside him.

Austin was excited about life and new experiences and loved his family. He recently learned how to breathe while jogging around the neighborhood surrounding his church,  a skill taught by his jogging partner, Cory Godbolt.

Godbolt is on trial for the killings.

Cora Edwards, Austin and Jordan’s grandmother, is a steel magnolia on the second pew of the Pike County courtroom as she stares at crime scene photos of the boys who used to sing in the church choir. She is there for her daughters — Shayla is Austin’s mom, Tiffany is Jordan’s — but she’s also there for others.

Thursday, after his testimony that he stared down the barrel of his brother Cory’s assault rifle, Kenyatta Godbolt and Mrs. Cora shared a long hug outside the courthouse. They exchanged “I love you”s.

She sits with her family in court watching the process unfold, listening to hours of testimony from various witnesses repeating what they know with slight variations. It’s not like a TV crime drama, all wrapped up in a neat little bow and presented to the jury,

Why are the assistant district attorneys and the defense attorneys arguing over whether a mugshot can be shown to a witness? Why are they even arguing this case when every person who sits in the stand recalls either how Cory told them he killed people or watched him gun down the victims?

In our country, people are considered innocent until proven guilty. These 12 jurors sitting in front of me in the courtroom will decide Cory’s guilt or innocence.

Have they decided already? It’s hard to read their faces. I’ve seen at least one woman cry looking at crime scene photos of the two children killed, the deputy, a mother, sister, aunt and friends.

It’s been a long week of testimony for the jury, the court and the people in the pews whose lives will never be the same. This jury has been at it for a week longer, having gone through the selection process in DeSoto County before they left their families, their jobs and their friends back home.

They left everything they know to do the right thing and their civic duty.

Five hundred people were summoned. These 12 people and three alternates were selected to decide guilt or innocence. They will decide life or death.

I pray every night for Cory Godbolt to do the right thing. I pray he stands up in court and admits he committed these heinous crimes instead of sitting there looking sad and heartbroken in a suit and tie.

Witnesses said Cory shot eight people — seven of those people loved him as family. Some of those victims’ family members still do.

But they want to see him punished for his crimes.

I believe Cory Godbolt is a coward. I think that if everyone’s testimony is true, Cory should stand up and accept responsibility, plead guilty and beg the people he’s hurt and God Almighty for forgiveness. He should accept a death sentence.

Will that happen? It’s doubtful. He has fought too long to stay alive. But the eight people who died in May 2017 on Lee Drive, Coopertown Road and East Lincoln Road didn’t have that option.

Donna Campbell is editor of The Daily Leader.

She can be reached at news@dailyleader.com.