In Jackson Mississippi, A Man’s Home is not his Castle

“Manic” DA prosecutes law-abiding citizen who acted in self-defense.

July 21, 2016 began as any other day for Wayne Parish. The Crystal Springs resident woke up, bid his family farewell and went to work at Performance Oil on McDowell Road in Jackson Mississippi. But the transformative events of that fateful day changed Parish’s life forever. On that day, the hard-working, law-abiding family man crossed paths with a 17-year-old delinquent named Charles McDonald.

Despite his youth, McDonald was already an aspiring criminal and a recidivist offender. On July 21, his mother, Yvette Mason-Sherman, tried to take him to the Henley-Young Youth Detention facility, which is located next to Performance Oil where Parish worked. McDonald had already been to the youth detention facility eight times in the past two years. During the ride, he jumped out of his mother’s car and ran off.

McDonald then entered the Performance Oil parking lot where a Lexus ES-350 caught his eye. It should be noted that at the time McDonald trespassed on to the lot, he had two outstanding warrants, one of which involved a police chase. McDonald then picked up a large rock and proceeded to smash the car’s driver’s side window in an effort to break in. His actions that day constituted a felony under Mississippi’s penal code.

The police were called and dispatched but Parish exited the store with a .38 Smith & Wesson and ordered McDonald, who was still trying to break into the car, to leave the premises. Instead of leaving, McDonald lunged at Parish in an effort to grab his gun. The two struggled for control of the revolver for less than 30 seconds but it likely seemed like an eternity for Parish. Toward the end of the life and death struggle, which was captured on surveillance video, McDonald, who is still seen grabbing at Parish, falls to the ground from gunshot wounds to the upper torso. He was later pronounced dead at University of Mississippi Medical Center.

After reviewing the evidence and speaking to witnesses, Jackson police determined that Parish was legally justified in using deadly force under the circumstances.   Under Mississippi’s penal code, a person has the right to protect his or her home, business, vehicle or other legally occupied space with reasonable force, including deadly force. This legislation is commonly referred to as the Castle Law. 

All states have some variation of the Castle Law. The concept is derived from the fact that a person’s home is their castle. In the instant case, McDonald was committing felony burglary when Parish confronted him, and then lunged for Parish’s gun when instructed to leave the business premises. Given McDonald’s past, it is a virtual certainty that he would have shot Parish had he succeeded in wresting control of the revolver. If any case cries out for self-defense, it is this one and legal experts who have reviewed the matter concur.

But the Hinds County District Attorney’s office, led by its shady and mercurial DA, Robert Shuler Smith, disagreed. On October 28, 2016 Smith’s DA’s office filed an indictment against Parish for first degree murder (the shoddy indictment filed by Smith’s office erroneously states that the incident occurred on June 21, 2016). He was arrested on December 29, over five months after the police determined that Parish was justified in the use of deadly force and committed no crime. 

Parish was held without bond for at least 12 days. On January 10, 2017 a judge set bond at $50,000, a rather low amount for someone charged with first degree murder. That gives one some insight as to what the judicial system thinks of this case. A trial date has been set for May 30.

During the course of the bond hearing, DA smith made an unexpected appearance and issued no objection to the bond amount but made a startling admission. He told the court that he learned of “the existence of a video of the incident three days ago” and had not had time to review it.

That admission represents sheer incompetence and legal malfeasance. The surveillance video clearly shows the entire sequence of events which serve to exculpate Parish. How could Smith have presented a first degree murder case before a grand jury without first watching the video? Moreover, even if Smith is to be believed, why had he not taken the time, during the three days in which he had possession of the tape, to view the video?

Smith’s actions in this sordid legal affair are beyond inexplicable. They border on the bizarre. Indeed, there is something perversely amiss in Jackson Mississippi and it centers on the Hinds County District Attorney’s office and its corrupt chief.

You see, Smith himself is under felony indictment and his license to practice law is currently under review. You read that correctly. The Hinds County’s chief law enforcement official has himself come under a cloud of criminal suspicion and corruption.

In July 2016, The Mississippi Bar’s general counsel asked the state Supreme Court to institute disciplinary measures against Smith. The request came after two judges filed complaints against Smith for behaving unethically and irrationally during the performance of his official duties. 

In his complaint to the Mississippi Bar, Judge Melvin Priester described Smith as “irrational, manic, and virtually out of control.” Judge Tomie Green complained that Smith engaged in, among other things, “retaliatory and improperly coercive” conduct. 

But being disbarred is the least of Smith’s problems. He is currently facing the prospect of a stiff jail sentence for allegedly hindering prosecution and obstruction of justice. His first criminal trial ended in a mistrial because a juror knew Smith and failed to reveal this fact during jury selection. A new trial date has been set for June 12, 2017. Smith’s criminal prosecution is being handled by the state’s attorney general.

The very fact that Smith is still able to retain office while under this cloud of criminal suspicion and maleficence is disturbing to say the least. It nonetheless provides some explanation as to why he would be prosecuting an innocent man who plainly acted in self-defense and most certainly would have been shot had he not acted in the manner that he did. Smith, by both word and deed has proven that at best, he lacks common sense and judgement.

This case has not garnered much national attention but it makes the injustice inflicted on Wayne Parish no less egregious. For the sake of justice, let’s hope that when the legal dust settles, Parish gets to go home to his family and Smith ends up wearing striped pajamas, courtesy of the state of Mississippi.