Another CRaZy Case, Oh My GoD?!
December 07, 2005 Cory Maye
From “The Agitator:”
Might want to keep a shot of something stiff nearby as you read this one.
Over the course of researching my paper, I came across the case of Cory Maye. Maye today sits on Mississippi’s death row, convicted of capital murder for shooting police officer Ron Jones. It’s probably worth mentioning that Jones is white, and Maye is black. It’s probably also worth mentioning that at the time of his death, Jones’ father was police chief of Prentiss, Mississippi, where the shooting took place. The jury that convicted Maye contained two black women, but was otherwise white.
Here are the details, culled from various media reports and conversations with a couple of people close to the case:
Sometime in late 2001, Officer Ron Jones collected a tip from an anonymous informant that Jamie Smith, who lived opposite Maye in a duplex, was selling drugs out of his home. Jones passed the tip to the Pearl River Basin Narcotics Task Force, a regional police agency in charge of carrying out drug raids in four surrounding counties. The task force asked Jones if he’d like to come along on the raid they’d be conducting as the result of his tip. He obliged.
On the night of December 26, the task force donned paramilitary gear, and conducted a drug raid on Smith’s house. Unfortunately, they hadn’t done their homework. The team didn’t realize that the house was a duplex, and that Maye — who had no relationship with Smith,– rented out the other side with his girlfirend and 1-year-old daughter.
As the raid on Smith commenced, some officers – including Jones — went around to what they thought was a side door to Smith’s residence, looking for a larger stash of drugs. (Note added on 12/12: This is Maye’s first attorney’s account of the raid. Police did have a warrant to both residences, though Maye wasn’t named in either.) The door was actually a door to Maye’s home. Maye was home alone with his young daughter, and asleep, when one member of the SWAT team broke down the outside door. Jones, who hadn’t drawn his gun charged in, and made his way to Maye’s bedroom. Police did not announce themselves. (Note added on 12/09/05: Police said at trial that they did announce themselves before entering Maye’s apartment — Maye and his attorney say otherwise. I’m inclined to believe Maye, for reasons outlined in this post. However, even if they did, announcing seconds before bursting in just before midnight, isn’t much better than not announcing at all. An innocent person on the other end of the raid, particularly if still asleep, has every reason to fear for his life.). Maye, fearing for his life and the safety of his daughter, fired at Jones, hitting him in the abdomen, just below his bulletproof vest. Jones died a short time later.
Maye had no criminal record, and wasn’t the target of the search warrant. Police initially concluded they had found no drugs in Maye’s side of the duplex. Then, mysteriously, police later announced they’d found “traces” of marijuana. I talked to the attorney who represented Maye at trial. She said that to her knowledge, police had found one smoked marijuana cigarette in Maye’s apartment. Regardless, since Maye wasn’t the subject of the search, whether or not he had misdemeanor amounts of drugs in his possession isn’t really relevant. What’s relevant is whether or not he reasonably believed his life was in danger. Seems pretty clear to me that that would be a reasonable assumption.
It apparently wasn’t so clear to Mississippi’s criminal justice system. In January of last year, Maye was convicted of capital murder for the shooting of Officer Jones. He was sentenced to death by lethal injection.
Let’s summarize: Cops mistakenly break down the door of a sleeping man, late at night, as part of drug raid. Turns out, the man wasn’t named in the warrant, and wasn’t a suspect. The man, frigthened for himself and his 18-month old daughter, fires at an intruder who jumps into his bedroom after the door’s been kicked in. Turns out that the man, who is black, has killed the white son of the town’s police chief. He’s later convicted and sentenced to death by a white jury. The man has no criminal record, and police rather tellingly changed their story about drugs (rather, traces of drugs) in his possession at the time of the raid.
The story gets more bizarre from there.
Maye’s attorney tells me that after the trial, she spoke with two jurors by phone. She learned from them that the consensus among jurors was that Maye was convicted for two reasons. The first is that though they initially liked her, Maye’s lawyer, the jury soured on her when, in her closing arguments, she intimated that if the jury showed no mercy for Maye, God might neglect to bestow mercy on them when they meet him in heaven. They said the second reason May was convicted was that the jury felt he’d been spoiled by his mother and grandmother, and wasn’t very respectful of elders and authority figures. The facts of the case barely entered the picture. Gotta’ love the South.
It gets weirder. Maye’s family terminated his trial attorney after he was convicted. In her place, they hired a guy from California with no legal experience who convinced them that he’d had bad representation (given his lawyer’s closing argument, he was probably on to something). The new fellow has since failed on several occasions to file the proper appeals.
Maye’s case is an outrage. Prentiss, Mississippi clearly violated Maye’s civil rights the moment its cops needlessly and recklessly stormed his home in the middle of the night. The state of Mississippi is about to add a perverse twist to that violation by executing Maye for daring to defend himself.