Unsolved murders leave big question mark for community

Published 12:04 am Sunday, June 21, 2015

NATCHEZ — Murder.

It’s not just a disruptive crime. It’s the disruptive crime. There’s no recovering from it.

Often, the act of violence associated with ending a life is so disorderly, so messy it’s only a matter of hours or days before the evidence points a metaphorical bloody arrow at a suspect.

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But sometimes, those hours and days stretch into months and years, and while family members and the public at large cry for justice, investigators are forced to search the ground one more time and scrounge for witnesses who don’t want to be found.

Two cases — the December shooting of Orthina Bailey, 37, in Natchez, and the September 2014 killing in Monterey of John Perritt, 63 — recently saw suspects arrested after several months of investigation.

The Perritt case represented the first murder in Concordia Parish that didn’t have a suspect in jail within days since Chief Deputy David Hedrick became a Concordia Parish sheriff’s deputy in 1993.

Perritt was found dead outside his residence in September, after having apparently been there several days.

“The difference between that case and all the other murders I have worked at the sheriff’s office is that most murders in our parish are domestic, they knew the victim, the victim knew the perpetrator and they were usually living in the same house or a very intimate friend,” Hedrick said.

“Most of the ones I have worked we have been blessed to know who the perpetrator was within an hour or so due to evidence at the scene and people who witnessed it.

“This is the first case where it has taken a lot of in-depth interviews, other facets of gathering information.”

Investigators have declined to discuss the case in detail, but this month the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office arrested three suspects — George E. Byrd, 26, Elijah K. Hoggatt, 40, and James H. Anderson Jr., 23 — in relation to the case. Byrd is charged with first-degree murder, while Hoggatt and Anderson are charged with accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.

The key to investigating even when no witnesses are around, Hedrick said, is to keep working the case.

Cases without arrests

Two Miss-Lou homicides are open without arrests, one from six months ago and one from five years ago.

The newer case, the January death of Jonathan Davis, 42, of Ferriday, has many unknowns.

Initial responders found his body at 7:40 a.m., Jan. 11, just off E.E. Wallace Boulevard near the Concordia Parish Library in Ferriday, not far from where he lived.

Officers thought he had died of natural causes, finding no signs of blood or visible wounds at the scene, but when the parish coroner examined Davis the next day he found a bullet hole in Davis’ chest.

The case was declared a homicide, but Ferriday police officials have declined to discuss further details.

Ferriday Police Chief Derrick Freeman did not return phone messages this week.

The second case in question began on the night of Feb. 17, 2010, when several people got together in the residence at 5 East St. for a casual gathering.

At 11:45 p.m., two gunmen burst into the residence and started shooting. Two people, Carl Williams, 50, and Stephanie Anderson, 19, were killed in the scramble to escape the hail of bullets.

Anderson was shot while helping Tina Garner, 16, escape through a window. Garner was also wounded in the shooting.

Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said this week investigators know Anderson wasn’t at the house for the gathering — she just happened to be dropping someone off at the time the attack happened.

The assailants also attacked a fourth person, Dora Lee, 39, striking her repeatedly in the head with a gun. Lee died a month later, but officials have not linked her death to the attack.

Coroner James Lee said at the time of her death Dora Lee had been reported to have seizures and dizziness, including on the day of her death.

Three other people were in the East Street residence at the time of the attack, and escaped uninjured. Early on, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office had three persons of interest with the case, but no arrests have ever been made. Mayfield said despite the elapsed time, the case is still considered an active one.

“I think about it every day,” he said.

“Some of the suspects we have had we are working cases on, trying to come at it from different angles, but so far it has just been a stone wall. We have a file that is foot thick with statements, and we have a bunch of DNA tests.”

Mayfield said several of the suspects investigators believe were involved in the killings have been arrested for other crimes through the years, but the investigation hasn’t advanced quite far enough to charge any of them.

“In this case, we believe it was drug related, and when it is drug related neither side wants to tell anything,” Mayfield said. “Obviously the two who are dead can’t tell anything, and the other people who were there — those who were involved — it is hard to get them to tell you anything.”

Working the cases

Working murder cases usually involves an effort in which investigators weave a tapestry of physical and verbal evidence, Hedrick said.

“In most cases, when you have a suspect, you are usually able to get them to make a confession, and you can make a case around the evidence you have gathered on the scene,” he said.

Physical evidence helps corroborate what witnesses have told investigators, and when witnesses aren’t forthcoming — or aren’t available — investigators are forced to look for other angles that might be much less obvious, Mayfield said.

“We don’t have computers we put clothes (from a crime scene) in and it shows you a picture of who wore it,” he said. “It is mainly human intelligence for the most part, and then forensic intelligence, and you have to put that together, the human witness with forensic evidence you have, and see if the statements and evidence match up.”

When it comes to forensic evidence, that takes time, from the initial processing of the scene to sending it to a crime lab, Natchez Police Department Detective Jerry Ford said.

“With a lot of the crime scene shows on TV now, they are showing the public to the point of where they have this conception that (police) gather this stuff and get the results back real soon, and in reality it is not like that,” Ford said.

“Even when we collect evidence and send it to the crime lab, our crime lab pretty much has an overload right now. The stuff that we send to the crime lab takes months before they can get to it to actually formulate what it is that we are trying to find out in relation to the crime.”

Residents sometimes think the police sweep cases under the rug when they don’t arrest someone right away, but that’s not the case, Ford said.

“We have to wait for the evidence to come back from the crime lab in order to move forward with the case,” he said. “A lot of times, when it comes an investigation people will name someone, a name they may have heard involved in a case, in that crime scene, and they expect us to go out and arrest them on the spot.

“We have to follow-up, investigate and do a whole lot of interviewing with that (to ensure) the person we are bringing in is actually a part of that crime. We can’t just go and get a name from someone because of something they have heard and put someone in jail. We have to make sure this person has committed the crime — people have rights, and we can’t infringe on their rights.”

But that’s exactly why long, thorough investigations are necessary, Hedrick said.

“You have to follow every little step, every little statement,” he said. “You have to follow everything out. A lot of times you will develop two different reasons a person thinks why they did the killing, and you have to run both out because if you don’t that could hurt your case.

“You have to work just every little aspect of it, from fingerprints to DNA to phone records to having computer analyzed. There could be something in that that relates back to your crime.”