Brandon pleads not guilty; trial set|[10/19/06]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 19, 2006

PORT GIBSON – The man indicted in shootings that left an attorney dead and a county employee wounded pleaded not guilty and had a trial date set Wednesday.

Attorneys for Carl Brandon, 52, entered the plea to charges of murder, aggravated assault and shooting into an occupied home.

The judge appointed to the case, Frank Vollor of Vicksburg, set a May 29 trial date. Vollor came on board after the circuit judge for Claiborne County, Lamar Pickard, recused himself.

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The shootings occurred March 17. On that day, Port Gibson attorney Allen Burrell, 54, was slain outside his Market Street office about 8 a.m.; shots were fired into the home of County Administrator James Miller; and then county road department employee Loretha Porter was shot in her office on Mississippi 18, northeast of Port Gibson. Brandon surrendered at the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Department about 20 minutes later.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Brandon was represented by attorneys Ed Blackmon and Frank C. Jones III, both of Canton. Blackmon is also a member of the State House of Representatives.

Asked by Vollor whether he planned to seek a change of venue for the trial, Blackmon said he did not. Vollor said a jury of Claiborne County citizens would be selected but that he might decide to move the trial to a different location for greater security.

Brandon’s attorneys have asked that he be taken to University Medical Center in Jackson for a psychiatric evaluation. The district attorney for Claiborne County, Alexander Martin, responded with a request for a separate psychiatric examination at the Mississippi State Hospital.

&#8220Certain examinations have been going on,” Blackmon said Wednesday, adding that attorneys for both sides had agreed on a Nov. 22 date for the testing Martin has requested.

The hearing took place in Claiborne County’s circuit courtroom, where most of the seats were filled Wednesday by members of the public. The room holds about 35 people, and Vollor said a larger location may be needed for jury selection.

Brandon is a former county road manager who was fired in 1997 following an investigation into allegations that he had sexually harassed a woman employee of the department.

Burrell, who represented the county’s board of supervisors for 26 years, and Miller participated in the investigation that led to Brandon’s firing. Porter was employed by the road department and provided information in the investigation, Claiborne County Sheriff Frank Davis has said.

Brandon appealed the county’s action through the state’s court system, and his efforts ended in 2002 with the Mississippi Supreme Court refusing to hear the case.

When the shootings occurred, Brandon was employed by the Vicksburg Warren School District as a special-populations teacher. The district was on spring break the week the shootings occurred, on a Friday.

At his initial court appearance, Brandon referred to the county’s action and asked for further investigation into the allegations that resulted in his firing.

Burrell practiced law in Port Gibson for 30 years. He was on the professional-responsibility committee of the state bar association, which honored him posthumously with its distinguished-service award. He also served in other leadership roles in the community.

Martin said Brandon was accused of shooting Porter with a pistol in her back and side. She was hospitalized at University Medical Center, from which she had been released by March 21.

Miller’s home in Port Gibson was strafed with shotgun blasts, but he was not struck. He was among those who attended Wednesday’s court hearing.

&#8220I hope and pray that justice will be served in this senseless and barbaric killing of attorney Burrell, the shooting of Ms. Porter and the shooting into my house by Carl Brandon,” Miller said.