The Mississippi Appeals Court has reversed Cory Maye's murder conviction for the Dec. 26, 2001, killing of Ron Jones, a police officer in Prentiss, Miss., a tiny community of 1,000 residents in Jefferson Davis County. The court has remanded the case for a new trial.
Maye, 29, received a death sentence after his first trial in Marion County. Circuit Court Judge Michael Eubanks tossed out the death penalty in 2006, ruling Maye had inadequate counsel during the death penalty phase of his trial. The en-banc appeals court threw out the entire conviction in their Nov. 17 decision, however, saying that Maye should have been tried in Jefferson Davis County.
"Finding that the trial court abused its discretion in not allowing Maye to exercise the constitutional right to be tried in the county where the offense occurred, the judgment of the trial court is reversed, and this case remanded for a new trial," states the court's conclusion.
Since his arrest immediately after the shooting, Maye has held that he acted in self-defense and in defense of his then-14-month-old daughter Tacorriana.
"Maye would testify that he awoke to a violent pounding at his front door, as if someone was trying to kick it down," wrote Radley Balko in "The Case of Cory Maye" in October 2006 in Reason magazine. "Frightened, he ran to his bedroom, where Tacorriana was sleeping. He retrieved the handgun he kept in a stand by the bed, loaded it, and chambered a bullet. He got down on the floor next to the bed, where he held the gun and waited in the dark next to his little girl, hoping the noises outside would subside."
When they didn't, Maye says he became frightened. According to his testimony, Maye fired the gun when he heard someone entering the house. Only then did he hear: "Police! Police! You just shot an officer!"
Maye immediately dropped his gun, slid it away and surrendered.
Testimony from the officers accompanying Jones that night, Stephen Jones, Darrel Cooley and Phillip Allday, dispute Maye's account. The officers say they announced themselves and the fact that they had a search warrant several times before they entered the house and the fatal shooting. Stephen Jones testified that someone looked out of a window at the front of the house, but would not open the door.
The two search warrants the officers held that night were for Jamie Smith, who lived on the left side of the duplex where Maye lived, and a second warrant for the right side naming "persons unknown." A police informant, Randy Gentry, had told Prentiss police that he had "seen a large amount of marijuana stored in the duplex." Ron Jones told Municipal Court Judge Donald Kruger that "various sources" told him they knew "drugs were being sold out of the duplex," and that he had personally witnessed "large amounts of traffic there at unusual hours," according to court documents.
Until that day, Maye had never been arrested, and police found no evidence in his home to support their suspicions of drug dealing. They found a little over a gram of marijuana, "most of it old and ashen," Balko wrote.
"Under any other circumstances, he'd have gotten a $50 ticket," Maye's attorney Bob Evans told Balko.
In all, Evans presented 12 alleged errors in the Maye trial to the Court of Appeals, including questioning the testimony of the controversial Dr. Stephen Hayne. The court reversed Maye's conviction solely on the venue issue.