Cory Maye, now 30, was convicted in 2004 of shooting and killing Prentiss, Mississippi, police officer Ron Jones, Jr. during a botched drug raid on Maye’s home on the day after Christmas in 2001. Hit the jump to read the rest of the story.
It’s Friday, July 1, 2011, a little past 8:15 a.m. when I arrive at the Lawrence County, Mississippi, courthouse. As I walk toward the building, I run into Dorothy Maye, the mother of Cory Maye. She’s beaming.
“I thought you’d be wearing a smile today, Miss Dorothy,” I say. She gives me a quick but firm embrace. She scolded me years ago when I tried to shake her hand. “I don’t shake,” she said. “I hug.” Later this morning, she expects to hear Judge Prentiss Harrell tell the courtroom that after 9 and a half years in prison — including two on death row and another three in Parchman Penitentiary’s notoriously violent Unit 32 — her son will soon be coming home.
Cory Maye, now 30, was convicted in 2004 of shooting and killing Prentiss, Mississippi, police officer Ron Jones, Jr. during a botched drug raid on Maye’s home on the day after Christmas in 2001. Maye says he was asleep as the raid began at 12:30 a.m. and had no idea the men breaking into his home were police. The police say they announced themselves. Maye had no prior criminal record, and police found all of a marijuana roach in his apartment, which under other circumstances would garner a $100 fine.
In fact, the man who lived next door to Maye in that bright yellow duplex, Jamie Smith, already had drug charges pending against him and appears to have been the actual target of the police action that night. The police found a significant supply of drugs in Smith’s apartment, though Smith has never been tried.
Dorothy Maye and I walk into the building, up a flight of worn wooden stairs, and through a security checkpoint to enter the second-story courtroom. Maye is expected to plead guilty to culpable negligence manslaughter this morning, a much less severe charge than the capital murder rap for which he was originally convicted and sentenced to death. If all goes to plan, he’ll be sentenced to 10 years in prison, with credit for the years he has already served. With time for good behavior, he should be released as soon as the Mississippi Department of Corrections can get through processing and paperwork, which his attorneys hope will take no more than a week to 10 days.
The courtroom looks new, or at least recently renovated, a contrast to the groaning old building that holds it. The walls are a pastel shade of blue, and the judge’s chair, bench and witness stand newly-finished oak. High-set windows with horizontal shades let in a portion of the warm Mississippi morning.
There will be no suspense today. No tense, pregnant silences as the courtroom awaits a verdict, as happened in 2004, when a Marion County jury declared Maye guilty and again less than an hour later, when the same jury condemned Maye to die. Nor will there be any exalted cries of “Thank you, Jesus!” like the one that burst from the normally-reserved Dorothy Maye’s lips 2006, when Judge Michael Eubanks unexpectedly threw out Maye’s death sentence. Eubanks ruled that the sentencing portion of Maye’s trial was marred by mistakes made by Rhonda Cooper, Maye’s trial attorney.
Instead, this morning’s proceedings are scripted in the plea agreement hashed out by Maye’s attorneys and Hal Kittrell, the district attorney for Mississippi’s 15th Judicial District. Maye’s attorneys began reaching out to Kittrell almost immediately after the Mississippi State Supreme Court granted Maye a new trial last December. The court ruled that Maye should have been permitted to argue at trial that he was defending the life of his daughter on the night of the raid, a defense Eubanks had denied him. It also upheld a lower court ruling that Maye should have been permitted to return his trial to Jefferson Davis County, the scene of the raid, after Cooper inexplicably asked to move it to a county with less favorable demographics.