Reward offered in Fayette murder

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 14, 2005

FAYETTE &8212; Concerned citizens met with Jefferson County Sheriff Peter Walker Wednesday at the courthouse in Fayette to offer their assistance in tracking down the party guilty of murdering Alma Churchill Oct. 24.

&8220;Whatever we can do, we want to take part to make sure that justice is done after taking the life of an 81-year-old lady,&8221; Jefferson County Supervisor Isaac Tenner said.

If the sheriff needs more help than the community can provide, Tenner said, then officials should not be afraid to ask for help.

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&8220;We want to make sure that people don&8217;t think they can come in here, commit a crime and just walk away,&8221; Tenner said.

One of the things the group decided to do was to offer a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer or killers. The money was offered by the friends and family of Alma Churchill.

The group next listened to an update of the investigation from Walker, who said he has already sought &8212; and received &8212; help from both the Fayette Police Department and the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

Walker encouraged citizens to relay any information they have about the case and said he is tracking down all leads that come into his office. He has identified several persons of interest, but said he must wait until the results from the state crime lab come in before making any arrests.

&8220;The evidence we collected at the crime scene is in Jackson at the crime lab. They are processing that,&8221; he said.

The reason it has taken two weeks &8212; and could take several more &8212; is there are only two crime labs in the state, one of which is in ruins on the coast.

&8220;(Personnel at the Jackson lab) are flooded with cases, but ours is a priority because I&8217;ve asked that it be a priority,&8221; Walker said.

Walker said robbery was the probable motive and that evidence from the crime scene indicates Churchill knew her killer or killers.

Churchill, whose house on Oak Street is near a school bus stop, operated a snack shop out of her living room. Her shop was closed on the day she died, however, leading friends and family members to conclude the murder took place before 3:30 p.m. when the bus stops.

Walker would not comment about specific evidence at the crime scene for fear of compromising the investigation.

A neighbor, worried at not seeing Churchill out on her porch later that evening, stopped by to check on her. She found Churchill&8217;s keys in the front door and her body in the dining room around 7 p.m.

Walker said he is working closely with Alexander Martin, the district attorney, to make sure everything is done correctly.

&8220;I understand citizens are concerned, and I am concerned. But I will not rush this case,&8221; he said.

&8220;The worst thing that can happen is that we go arrest someone, get an indictment, go to trial and lose the case.&8221;

No timetable was set for a new meeting, but Tenner, who organized Wednesday&8217;s meeting along with James Thomas, said this was not the end of the community&8217;s involvement.

&8220;When we leave here tonight, we&8217;re going forward, this isn&8217;t just a meeting and then we do nothing,&8221; Tenner said.