Sentenced to die – overturned, sentenced to life – conviction overturned, now a new trial

A Jefferson Davis County man serving a life sentence without parole for the murder of a police officer will be given a new trial, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Cory Maye was convicted and sentenced to death in 2004 for the 2001 murder of Prentiss police officer Ron Jones during a drug raid at the duplex where he lived. In 2006, his death sentence was overturned.

Maye testified he had fired shots in self-defense and defense of his 14-month-old daughter who was asleep in the apartment at the time.

Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. said the trial judge was wrong in refusing Maye’s jury instructions that his claim of self-defense extend to his daughter.

Maye said he was sleeping when law enforcement officers kicked down the door of his apartment to serve a drug warrant for marijuana possession. He said he went to his bedroom where his daughter was sleeping, grabbed a gun and fired shots when he heard someone enter.

Officers testified they knocked on Maye’s door and announced themselves repeatedly. They also raided the apartment of James Smith, then 21, who lived on the other side of the complex.

Maye, however, said he never heard the officers.

Officers also said they found a small amount of marijuana in Maye’s apartment.

Maye’s attorney, Bob Evans, said he was beyond ecstatic at the ruling.

“This Cory thing has gone on for nine years,” he said. “It’s been hugely bad on everybody, including Ron Jones’ family, and I hate to reopen those wounds, but sometimes it takes a long time for the wheels of justice to turn.”

Evans said he was surprised that the court ruled on the issue of self-defense. In 2009, the Mississippi Court of Appeals had ordered a new trial on different grounds – that a judge had denied Maye his constitutional right to be tried in the county where the crime occurred. Maye had been convicted in Marion County.

But Waller wrote in the 7-2 decision that defendants are entitled to have their versions of the case presented to the jury.

“In homicide cases, the trial court should instruct the jury about a defendant’s theories of defense, justifications, or excuses that are supported by the evidence, no matter how meager or unlikely,” he said.

Justice Randy Pierce in his dissent said Maye offered no evidentiary basis for his defense-of-others theory. He added that the jury’s finding that Maye knew that the intruder was a police officer “negates any logical argument for this additional theory” that he was protecting his daughter.

The re-trial means that Maye can reassert his right to be tried in Jefferson Davis County. Evans said he expects a new trial to begin in mid-2011.

 

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