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McKinley Bell headed to prison for life

[07/13/01] McKinley Bell, who has spent much of his life behind bars, will spend the rest of it there on orders of Circuit Judge Frank Vollor.

Bell, 44, convicted last month on a charge of burglary got life in prison without the possibility of parole as a habitual offender.

“This is a sad day, Mr. Bell,” Vollor said after announcing the sentence.

Bell, who has faced 45 criminal charges in the past 25 years, responded by saying, “It isn’t a sad day for me, it is a sad day for all of y’all.”

Vicksburg attorney Pat McNamara, who represented Bell, had no comment after the sentencing.

Since Bell has served more than a year in prison on two previous felony convictions, he was deemed a violent habitual offender, which opened the possibility of a life sentence. His two prior convictions include one for a 1977 armed robbery and one for grand larceny in 1997.

District Attorney Gil Martin said his office offered Bell a reduced sentence before going to trial on the residential burglary charge, but it was turned down.

“He knew what could happen if he was deemed a habitual offender,” Martin said.

When a jury found Bell guilty June 27 of breaking into a Holly Street home it concluded his third trial in seven months. He was tried once in November and again June 4 on charges that he broke into two Belmont Street day-care centers on 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.

“Mr. Bell is exactly the kind of person the habitual offender law was written for,” Martin said.

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.

On June 27, prosecutors succeeded in convincing jurors that Bell broke into a home in the 1200 block of Holly Street on April 12, 2000.

During his last trial, two eyewitnesses testified they saw Bell walking to the house and then walking away pushing a lawn mower and grass trimmer.

Bell testified he was not on Holly Street the day of the burglary.

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