Very active burglar’ McKinley Bell guilty again, may get life sentence

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 28, 2001

[06/28/01] McKinley Bell, termed a “very active burglar” in Vicksburg by District Attorney Gil Martin, is facing a possible life sentence after a jury found him guilty Wednesday of breaking into a Holly Street home.

The jury of 10 women and two men deliberated for 45 minutes before declaring 43-year-old Bell guilty of burglary of a dwelling.

Bell, who has faced 45 criminal charges in the past 25 years, is no stranger to law enforcement or courthouse employees, Martin said.

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“He is a habitual burglar and we will be happy to see him off the streets,” said Martin, who prosecuted the case with Assistant District Attorney Mike Bonner. “He has been very active here for a long time.”

Bell has served several terms in the state prison and in the Warren County jail. After each release, he has been rearrested, sometimes within days or weeks.

His trial that began Monday was the third in the past seven months for Bell. He was tried once in November and again two weeks ago on charges that he broke into two Belmont Street day-care centers April 21, 2000.

In both trials Bell admitted taking food from the centers was a “delicious opportunity,” but said the buildings had already been burglarized when he arrived.

In November a mistrial was declared after the jury couldn’t agree on a verdict. A unanimous verdict is required to convict. On June 6, Bell was found innocent of one burglary charge and convicted of the lesser offense of trespass on the second charge.

This time prosecutors succeeded in convincing jurors that Bell broke into a home in the 1200 block of Holly Street on April 12, 2000.

Two eyewitnesses testified they saw Bell walking to the house and then walking away pushing a lawn mower and grass trimmer.

Vicksburg Police Capt. Robert Dowe testified Monday that he had seen Bell with the lawn equipment on Harrison Street minutes after the burglary was reported.

Bell, who testified in his own defense Tuesday, said he was not on Holly Street the day of the burglary.

Vicksburg attorney Pat McNamara, who represented Bell at all three trials, said the picture lineup police showed to witnesses was biased. “Both the witnesses said the man they saw had long hair and in the photo display my client was the only one with long hair,” McNamara said.

Bell was arrested on the burglary charge April 28, one week after the burglaries at Small World and Colonial Day School on Belmont.

Circuit Court Judge Frank Vollor, who presided over all three trials, could sentence Bell to a life term July 12 if he is deemed a violent habitual offender.