‘Our moral compass is no longer pointing true’: Woodhaven homeowner reflects on shooting incident

Published 4:30 am Friday, September 2, 2022

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NATCHEZ — On Aug. 22, Paul Leake’s wife woke him up and told him a car she did not recognize was parked at the end of their driveway on Woodhaven Drive in Natchez.

A noise had awakened one of the Leake’s daughters at about 2:30 a.m., and she came downstairs to discover the car parked sideways across the driveway entrance with its lights on. She woke her mother, who in turn woke up Leake.

Paul Leake

“I went and looked and thought maybe they had broken down and needed some help. I put some clothes on and went to see,” he said.

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A few minutes later, a fleeing thief fired two shots at Leake, both of which hit his home.

The next night, Adams County Sheriff’s deputies apprehended the alleged vehicle and its vehicle driver, Tia Neshae Groom, 28, which ultimately led to the capture of the suspected shooter, Xavier Lamon Jenkins, 22. Both are now charged with drive-by shooting and have been denied bond. Law enforcement officials suspect other charges will be brought against the two for burglary of vehicles in the Woodhaven neighborhood.

Leake praised the work of Natchez Police Department Det. Vincent Bates and the cooperation between the city police department and the Adams County Sheriff’s Office in apprehending the suspects.

Leake said the incident could have quickly become a parent and a homeowner’s worst nightmare.

When Leake, who has a military background, stepped onto his porch, he carried a Springfield Arms 40 caliber handgun. “It pretty much stays with me,” he said.

He yelled out to the person in the car.

“I couldn’t hear the engine running, but the car had its running lights on,” Leake said. “I stepped out on my porch and walked to the end. From my vantage point, it looked like the passenger window may have been down, so I yelled, ‘Can I help you with something?’

“At about that time, a Black male, whom I previously had not seen, was walking down my driveway toward the car. When he saw me, he kind of jumped,” Leake said.

The man yelled curse words at Leake, ran to the waiting vehicle, and got in.

“As he was jumping in, he yelled something like, ‘Let’s get the **** out of here,’ and they took off,” he said.

Leake, whose front porch runs the length of his home, ran toward the end of the porch and yelled out to the passing vehicle that he was calling for the police.

That’s when the shooter fired his first shot, which went over Leake’s head about three feet and through the outer wall and two interior walls of his home, landing on the kitchen floor.

The second shot landed on the floor of Leake’s porch.

“When the second shot landed, that’s when I was clearing leather and took a bead on the vehicle. They told the police they shot twice. I told the police they shot at least twice,” Leake said. “After the second shot, I fired at them. I returned with a single answering shot.”

Leake’s family, all awake and being kept inside the house by his wife, heard the shots and for a time didn’t know if Leake had been shot.

“They could hear the shots, especially after I fired the returning shot,” he said. “They didn’t know if I was dead, bleeding, shot. They could have gotten hit inside the house.”

Leake said he kept his focus on the vehicle, but knew it was not safe to fire more shots because of the vehicle’s proximity to neighboring homes.

Leake, a Natchez native and a 1989 graduate of Cathedral High School, said he was saddened by the suspects’ lack of regard for human life.

“The ability to take a human life should not be taken lightly. Not everyone should engage in gunfire. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had formal training and was so disciplined, I could have easily shot into a neighbor’s house. That’s why I only fired one single answering round. I had that clear line of sight for that.

“I will say this — and I was already aware of this fact — Mississippi is a castle doctrine state and we have an excellent stand-your-ground law on the books, which validates the circumstances in which deadly force can be used,” Leake said.

He said it’s valid for all victims of crime to feel violated.

“Throughout this whole ordeal, I have found myself sad that these people had so little regard for human life, mine or my family’s.

“This young man has adversely affected the rest of his life by these actions, but how the crime was perpetrated with such malice and disregard for human life, it can’t go unanswered,” he said.

Jenkins was convicted of accessory after attempted murder in 2018 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. However, he never went to prison. Instead, then-Judge Al Johnson credited him with a year and a half served in the county jail and suspended the remainder of his sentence.

He was arrested and charged in May 2020 with being a felon in possession of a stolen weapon. At that time, Sixth District Attorney Shamica Collins said she tried to revoke Jenkins’ probation and have him put into the Mississippi Department of Corrections System. However, Collins said Judge Debra Blackwell instead sent him to a program for teenagers, where he spent less than six months.

“My understanding is he aged out of that program,” Leake said.

“He has been shown leniency by the law and I think he’s had his opportunities. I feel like the punishment truly needs to fit the crime this time,” he said. “I understand there are lots of programs meant to reduce recidivism, but they just don’t seem to be effective in a lot of cases. I don’t know what we have to do to change that, but I feel like our moral compass is no longer pointing true.”