Man retried in bank robbery, shooting trial
NATCHEZ — The Adams County man accused of robbing a Natchez bank and shooting a deputy in the process went to trial for the second time Tuesday.
And just like the first trial, none of the witnesses could visually identify the suspect as the person who robbed United Mississippi Bank on Seargent S. Prentiss Drive, nor as the man who shot Deputy Buddy Frank in the ankle as he made a frantic getaway.
Kendrick Smith was first tried on the charges in November 2012, but the case ended in mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on a charge of armed robbery and aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer.
Smith was found not guilty of two counts aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer — for allegedly shooting at two deputies, Maj. Billy Neely and Maj. Charles Harrigill — who were not struck in November. He was also found not guilty of aggravated assault for allegedly shooting at an employee of a nearby business while fleeing the robbery.
The state is pursuing a new trial on the counts for which the jury did not return a verdict.
Assistant District Attorney Walt Brown said Tuesday he believes the new jury will return a “guilty” verdict when they hear the evidence.
“We have got eyewitnesses who saw this event occur, we have got evidence — bloody clothes, gloves, all that — we have DNA evidence; we don’t always get that like they do on TV, but we got it; and the DNA evidence points to one man, Kendrick Smith, and we have a confession,’” Brown said.
Defense Attorney Jeffery Harness expressed doubts the evidence would be so overwhelming.
“All the witnesses are going to say we saw a black male with a bandanna — wearing a mask — with brown pants, but none of these witnesses are going to be able to testify they saw Kendrick Smith,” he said.
“What the state is going to bring is a lot of inconsistencies with no certainties. They are going to bring persons from the state crime lab, but we are going to bring counter evidence that this evidence may have been tampered with.”
Witnesses who took the stand Tuesday told a story of a robbery almost foiled from the start. Former Kentucky Fried Chicken employee Cartrell Stampley told how, as he was taking out the trash behind the business, he saw a man wearing a bandanna across his face who gestured for him to be quiet. Concerned, Stampley went back in the business and told the shift leader in charge, LaKrystal Barnes, about what he had seen.
Barnes testified that she was afraid that KFC was about to be robbed and approached three Adams County Sheriff’s Office deputies — Frank, Neely and Harrigill — who happened to be there on a lunch break.
The deputies testified that while only one of them, Frank, was carrying a service weapon at the time, they all went outside to look for the suspect, who they did not immediately see.
During the interlude, the robber had apparently made his way into the nearby bank, and the two women who were working as tellers that day — Patricia McRanie and Sabrina McMorris — testified of a man wearing a cap and wearing a bandanna across his face entering the bank, firing into the ceiling and yelling for them to give him money. Both women testified the robber shot over their heads when they did not give him money speedily enough.
A customer from that day, Jacob Bonnette, testified he believed his life was over that day as the robber pointed a gun in his face.
None of the witnesses from the bank could identify the suspect, saying that they could only say he was a black man with a bandanna over his face.
The deputies testified that when the robber came outside, he saw them in the parking lot and started shooting, firing several shots, one of which struck Frank in the lower calf; during his testimony, the deputy raised his pants leg to show jurors the site of the wound.
The deputy returned fire, and the three officers all testified they saw one round strike the masked gunman, who they testified was also wearing yellow dishwashing gloves.
But while Frank was able to say what happened that day, he wasn’t able to say he knew the shooter’s face.
“I can remember the yellow glove, I remember the pistol, and I can remember the smoke coming out of the pistol,” he said. “It was over in seconds.”
An employee of Natchez Ford, Larry Wilson Jr., testified the masked man ran into the back end of the business and shot once at him before fleeing the scene.
After being hit, Frank said he gave Neely his service weapon, and Neely said he chased the suspect, following a trail of money even after losing sight of him. After searching down the street and being unable to find the suspect, Neely said he returned to a spot he believed the suspect might be headed, later to find other law enforcement officers had arrested Smith.
Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield testified that as he responded to the call of the downed officer, he and Natchez-Adams County Metro Narcotics Commander David Lindsey decided to seek the suspect in a gully behind Plantation Manor Apartments. In the kudzu, Mayfield testified he saw Smith — who was shirtless, gloveless and maskless — with his hands hidden in the plants, attempting to slide down the hill even as the sheriff commanded he show his hands.
“The only think I remember him saying was ‘Are you going to shoot me?’” Mayfield said.
“He had on shorts and no shirt — he did have what looked like an exit wound (on his left side).”
At that point, Natchez Police officers showed up to the scene, and Mayfield testified that after they retrieved the suspect from the gully he let NPD take over because the suspect was in the Natchez city limits.
Other testimony Tuesday included NPD officer Joe Belling and Detective Jerry Ford, who discussed evidence that was recovered that day, including Smith’s bloody clothes, yellow gloves found in the Highland Boulevard area, a brown and white bandanna collected from the backyard of a house in the area, a handgun and $2 bills with blood on them.
The case will resume this morning in Adams County Circuit Court.