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Students first witnesses called in campus death

[8/24/04]Two 10th-graders weren’t in class this morning. Instead, they were in Warren County Circuit Court as the state’s first witnesses in the prosecution of Walter Jefferson, 20, for a homicide near Vicksburg High School a year ago.

Also, in a rare move, jurors chosen Monday to hear the case will be sequestered on order of Circuit Judge Frank Vollor.

While jurors are often guarded, housed in motels and kept away from newspapers, newscasts and contact with the public in murder trials, Jefferson is charged with the lesser offense of manslaughter.

Gil Martin, district attorney since 1992, said he did not recall any previous manslaughter case where jurors were shielded.

Jefferson, of 202 Cain Ridge Road, faces up to 20 years if convicted of the Sept. 10 shooting death of O’Dare Lee Earl Mims, who was 20 when he died after being shot in the chest near Memorial Stadium at City Park.

Mims was a former VHS student when he was shot. Jefferson was a junior at VHS.

This morning, Assistant District Attorney John Bullard called the two students to testify. Both now 15 and 10th-graders, they were on their way to soccer practice in the early afternoon when the shooting occurred less than 20 feet from them.

Both said Mims got out of a car and ran to another vehicle. Jefferson was in that vehicle, they said, and drove away after Mims was shot. After their testimony, they were dismissed to return to the high school.

Mims had one chest wound and died at 2:12 p.m., a coroner’s report showed.

The shooting happened on a Wednesday with school in session, near a walking route some students take to facilities they use in some extracurricular activities. The area used for overflow parking for the school is also nearby.

Jefferson, represented by Vicksburg attorney Clyde Ellis, was arrested minutes after the shooting. Police said they spotted him driving a car near Clay Street and Mission 66, and that they recovered a .38-caliber pistol from the car.

Jefferson is also charged with possessing a weapon on school property, an independent felony crime that carries a prison sentence of up to three years.

Attorneys expect a verdict on or before Friday.