With 45 charges in 24 years, jail no stranger to city man

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 7, 2001

McKinley Bell sips coffee as he is escorted from the Warren County Jail Wednesday. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[06/07/01] McKinley Bell, who may hold the record for arrests in Vicksburg, got a break in Warren County Circuit Court Wednesday but it may be short-lived.

Bell, who is 43 and has answered 45 criminal charges during the past 24 years, was found innocent of one burglary charge and convicted of a misdemeanor on the other.

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He had been accused of breaking into two day-care centers, but testified he found one open and went in hunting something to eat.

“It was a delicious opportunity,” Bell said, who has spent much of his adult life in jail here or in the state prison.

Bell’s trial, which began Monday, was his second in seven months on charges that he burglarized two day-care centers on the same night.

The jury of six women and four men deliberated for two hours before declaring Bell innocent of one count of business burglary and guilty of the lesser offense of trespass on the second charge.

Circuit Court Judge Frank Vollor, who presided over both trials, sentenced Bell to six months in jail but gave him credit for the year he has already spent behind bars.

Bell, however, was in the Warren County Jail this morning on a $1,000 bond for two additional felony charges he is facing.

This week’s trial was almost identical to Bell’s first one, in November. It ended in a mistrial after the jury could not reach a verdict. A unanimous verdict is required to convict.

Bell was accused of the April 21, 2000, burglary of Small World and Colonial Day School on Belmont.

As he did at the first trial, Lt. Bob Donohue, Vicksburg Police Department crime scene investigator, testified that fingerprints found at the scene of the crime were matched to Bell through the Automated Fingerprint Identification System.

Paul Wilkerson, a fingerprint analyst with the Mississippi State Crime Lab, testified Wednesday that 11 of Bell’s prints were found in and around the day-care centers.

Wilkerson said several were found on a window that had been broken on one of the buildings, on a salt shaker inside the building and on a bar of chocolate inside the building.

Bell’s prints were also found on a microwave and TV that were taken from Colonial. The items were found on the porch of an abandoned house across Belmont.

Bell testified in both trials that he happened upon the day-care centers after they had already been burglarized.

“I was picking up aluminum cans and I saw the broken window and I started looking in the building,” Bell said.

He said he entered Small World through a back door that he claimed was already open.

Bell said he took some pudding snacks and consumed several hard-boiled eggs from the day care but that was all.

Addressing his prints on the microwave and TV, Bell said he went to the house to eat his snacks and noticed them sitting on the porch.

“I was just looking at them, but I am not the one that took them,” he said.

Assistant District Attorney John Bullard, who prosecuted the case, asked jurors not to be swayed by Bell’s story. “He has woven a tale for you, but don’t leave your common sense behind,” Bullard said.

Bell was facing a possible life sentence if convicted because he would be deemed a habitual offender.

Vicksburg attorney Pat McNamara, who represented Bell at both trials, said justice was served. “I think the jury’s verdict was consistent with the evidence.”

A trial date has not been set for the additional residential burglary and grand larceny charges Bell has faced since April 2000.