Jury selected, Brandon trial cranks up in Hattiesburg|[05/30/07]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 30, 2007

HATTIESBURG – After a marathon day of jury selection in Port Gibson, opening arguments were expected here today by prosecutors who want Carl Brandon punished for a 2006 shooting spree and defense counsel who are expected to say he’s innocent due to insanity.

Brandon, 52, is on trial for a March 17 rampage during which Allen Burrell, attorney for the Claiborne County Board of Supervisors, was slain and a county employee was wounded.

Selection of the jury of eight women and four men started at Port Gibson High School Tuesday and continued until after 11 p.m. The 12 jurors and four alternates were bused to a Masonic Temple in Hattiesburg near the Forrest County Circuit Courthouse and will be sequestered until the trial ends.

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Judge Frank Vollor of Vicksburg is hearing the case. Though a change of venue motion was not filed, proceedings are being held in Hattiesburg because Vollor determined a facility larger than the Claiborne County Courthouse was needed. Jury selection was held at the high school for the same reason. Claiborne County has 12,000 residents and 350 were summoned for the jury pool

The charges say Brandon waited for Burrell to arrive at his office on Main Street, then fired at him with a shotgun as he stepped out of his vehicle, killing the attorney almost instantly. Brandon faces a murder indictment for Burrell’s death.

Next, the charges say, Brandon drove to the home of then-Claiborne County Administrator James Miller and fired several blasts into the home. Miller was not injured and Brandon faces a count of shooting into an occupied dwelling for that stop.

His next stop was the Claiborne County Road Department building on Mississippi 18, where employee Loretha Porter was shot and wounded at her desk. Brandon faces an aggravated assault charge for the wounding of Porter.

He surrendered at the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Department minutes later.

Brandon, employed by the Vicksburg Warren School District as special populations teacher at the time of the shooting, had pursued a wrongful termination suit over his 1997 firing from the Claiborne County Road Department, which he supervised, over accusations of sexual harassment of a female co-worker.

He continually had denied the accusation, but the state’s high court ruled against him in 2002.

He is represented by Canton attorney Edward Blackmon. Results of mental exams are expected to be used as evidence.

In Mississippi, findings of innocence due to insanity must be based on jurors’ concluding a defendant was incapable of discerning right from wrong at the time of a criminal act.

Killing during an uncontrollable rage is manslaughter, carrying a 20-year prison sentence. Killing after premeditation is murder which requires a life sentence without parole.

Burrell, who was 54, had practiced law in Port Gibson for 30 years and was attorney for Claiborne supervisors for 26 years. He also held a position on the professional responsibility committee of the state bar association.

Miller had participated in the investigation that led to Brandon’s firing. Porter was employed by the road department and provided information into the investigation, Sheriff Frank Davis said.