Jury declines to indict in deputy’s shooting of Edwards man

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 26, 2003

[06/20/03] Addie Green of Bolton said she is a patient woman, a handy quality for her, since she might have to wait a long time to see if the man who shot and killed her brother will ever stand trial.

Green’s voice is calm and resolute when asked if she plans to continue pursuing the case. Her voice gets louder when she talks about Copiah County Deputy David McMillian, who, according to investigative documents, shot and killed 57-year-old Robert Lee of Edwards on Jan. 11.

“Oh, yes n if it takes us from now until 2010, we’re going to get some justice,” Green said.

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A Copiah County grand jury voted to not indict McMillian, who is white, earlier this month for any charges after he shot Lee, who was black, multiple times n including once in the back n off a rural road near the Hinds-Copiah line.

There were no witnesses, and no public statement has been made that Lee was armed or wanted or provoked the shooting.

District Attorney Alexander Martin, whose district includes Copiah County, said he presented all the evidence given to him by the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol, which investigated the case.

The grand jury was made up of 20 Copiah County citizens, 12 white and eight black, Martin said. If 12 had agreed, McMillian would face indictment and trial. As they left it, a future grand jury could rule differently on the evidence, but Martin gave little indication the case will be presented again anytime soon.

“The only time that I would do that is if there would be new and additional evidence,” Martin said. “I would not present the same set of facts.”

Since the day of the shooting, few officials have been willing to say anything about the circumstances of Lee’s death. In fact, no press reports of the case appeared for almost a week.

Copiah Sheriff’s personnel have hung up as soon as callers have identified themselves as reporters. This week, a circuit court clerk refused to provide public documents in the case and referred all questions to Martin, who didn’t return calls for several days.

Green said Martin called her cell phone last week to tell her the grand jury didn’t indict the deputy. She said Martin said he would phone the Jackson attorney she has hired to help her pursue the case, but they haven’t been able to get in touch with the DA since.

“He’s dodging everybody,” Green said. “My lawyer’s been calling him every day.”

Green said McMillian’s potential standing trial for murder is about more than her brother’s death; it’s about the law holding people accountable for their actions and justice being served. She said nobody, including a sheriff’s deputy, should be beyond public inquiry.

Ernest O’Quinn of Hermanville was called to testify before the grand jury two weeks ago today about what he observed the day McMillian shot Lee. In earlier interviews, O’Quinn said he was watching and listening to the two men from about 100 yards away. The deputy had responded to a 911 call to investigate a suspicious car, apparently Lee’s, on O’Quinn’s cousin’s land.

He said he didn’t know if McMillian meant to arrest Lee, but soon O’Quinn said he saw the deputy chasing Lee into the woods near the rural road.

“Shortly after we heard some shooting,” O’Quinn said, adding he heard six shots.

McMillian was placed on paid leave during the investigation. A receptionist at the Copiah County Sheriff’s Department said today McMillian, who has not commented, would be in the office next week.

Calls made today to the Copiah County Sheriff Frank Ainsworth were not returned.

The autopsy report on Lee was given to Green by Copiah Coroner Phil Howard. It listed the cause of death as “a gunshot wound to the back, right forearm distant or near contact and perforating with a re-entry gunshot wound to the right flank, gunshot wound to the chest, distant or near contact perforating with re-enter perforating gunshot wound to the left arm.”

O’Quinn said he saw something in Lee’s hands that day but was so far away he couldn’t tell what it was.

“It didn’t look like a shotgun or anything,” O’Quinn said.

Green and others have held public vigils since Lee’s death, including one near the spot where he died, to keep alive his memory n and hope for answers. State legislators including Rep. Phillip West, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, have said they will seek justice.

By law, grand juries meet in secret. Green said she doesn’t know all of the evidence presented or how it was shown to the grand jury. She said she just knows her brother was a good man and the man who shot him should be punished.

She finds solace, she said, in renewed prosecutions from the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

“It took 30 years for the (Byron De La) Beckwith case to (get a conviction),” Green said. “So I’m going to be patient like Job.”

Beckwith, now dead, was convicted in 1994 and sentenced to life for the ambush murder of Medgar Wylie Evers in 1963.