Adams County circuit court judge denies motion to dismiss murder charge in 2020 shooting incident

Published 3:07 pm Wednesday, January 31, 2024

NATCHEZ — Sixth Circuit Court Judge Debra Blackwell denied a motion Wednesday morning to dismiss the murder case against Reginald Butler for lack of a speedy trial.

Reginald Butler

Butler turned himself in to Natchez Police shortly after the Dec. 17, 2020, murder of Bralon James, 22, who was killed in the vicinity of Minor Street and Brenham Avenue.

Then-Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong and then-chief investigator Scott Frye issued a press release announcing Butler’s arrest for murder. “He has been very cooperative in our investigation,” Armstrong said at the time.

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Two others were arrested in the case. Tyran Jabari Newman, 24, was charged with aggravated assault and Eliegrel Quartez White, 31, was charged with aggravated assault and illegal possession of a controlled substance.

At the time, Frye said investigators believed a disagreement and physical altercation between the suspects and the victim led to the shooting.

Butler’s attorney, Zach Jex, on Wednesday morning asked that the case be dismissed for lack of a speedy trial, and short of that, that a probable cause hearing be held.

Jex said that the Sixth District Attorney at the time, Shameca Collins, transferred the case from her office to the Fourth District Attorney’s Office because of a conflict of interest with a key staff member in her office.

Jex alleged Collins sent the case to that office to be tried by Fourth District Assistant Prosecutor Stanley Alexander, who at one time worked in Collins’ office.

“I can’t prove selective prosecution,” Jex said. “I am not alleging misconduct. I have no evidence of that. It’s just interesting that this case went to a District Attorney who had an employee who once worked for Ms. Collins.”

Jex claimed four eyewitnesses testified in municipal court that Butler was acting in self-defense when he shot James, who first turned a gun on him. Jex said James and a couple of other men had tracked down someone who James said owed him money. That person began running from James when Butler intervened and told James to leave the man alone.

“That’s when he (James) turned his attention to Reginald. He pointed a gun at Reginald, who killed Bralon James in self defense,” Jex said. He said a Natchez Police investigator testified in municipal court at the time that he thought it was self-defense shooting. However, Jex said no record could be found of that investigator’s testimony.

Alexander in June 2023 presented testimony to a grand jury, which indicted Butler for the murder. He told Blackwell it did not get evidence back from the state crime lab until March 2023.

“The evidence was sent to the state crime lab on Dec. 28, 2020, by the Natchez Police, less than two weeks after the crime,” Alexander said. “The results did not come back until March 24, 2023. It was important to me to find out who shot the only bullets and shell casings found at the scene, which turned out to belong to the defendant. I couldn’t take it to a grand jury until I had those facts.”

Despite the fact that Butler claimed multiple guns were fired, the only shell casings found at the scene were those from Butler’s gun.

In addition, Alexander said James was shot in the back. Jex argued that because the bullet entered the back does not mean the shot was not fired when Butler and James were facing each other.

Alexander disputed Jex’s claim that a Natchez Police investigator had testified that he thought Butler acted in self-defense.

“A grand jury decides whether a case should be brought to trial,” Alexander said. “There is no evidence that we delayed this case to gain a tactical advantage.”

In making her ruling, Blackwell said Butler never asserted his right to a speedy trial. Jex said he did that in the municipal court proceeding, but had no record proving that.

Also, Blackwell said the delay from the crime lab could be counted slightly against the state, but was not reason enough to cause a dismissal.

She set a pretrial date for Feb. 12. Jex said he would likely seek a continuance in order to try to locate and subpoena witnesses.

Butler, who has a lengthy criminal record, has been in the custody of the Adams County Sheriff’s Office since April 17, 2022, when he was arrested for the drive-by shooting into two homes on Red Bud Lane in Natchez. Information as to when he was released from custody on the December 2020 murder charge and on what bond, if any, was unavailable.