Victim’s wife tearfully recalls day of shooting|[05/31/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 31, 2007

HATTIESBURG – The wife of the Port Gibson attorney gunned down outside his workplace on March 17, 2006, testified this morning that she sped to his office as soon as she received a call that &#8220something was going on.”

&#8220I saw him lying in the street,” Michelle Burrell said in her tearful five minutes of testimony in the Masonic Temple, a makeshift courtroom in Hattiesburg where the state is attempting to prove Carl Brandon, 52, guilty of murder, shooting into an occupied dwelling and aggravated assault.

Others taking the stand this morning told about the scene outside Allen Burrell’s law office on Main Street, including hearing the sound of gunfire.

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This is the second day of testimony in the trial in which prosecutors are arguing for a life sentence for Brandon. On Wednesday, they said he exhibited all the signs of distinguishing right from wrong when killing Burrell and targeting two other county employees.

Ed Blackmon Jr., attorney for the former Claiborne County road manager, said while the defense &#8220won’t dispute the facts as laid out by the state,” psychiatrists and psychologists will be called to testify Brandon was not capable of controlling his actions. Pent-up emotions stemming from a sexual harassment accusation nine years before the 30-minute spree in 2006 were too strong to resist, Blackmon said.

The jury of eight women and four men was picked in Port Gibson and bused to Hattiesburg.

If Brandon is found guilty of murder, the sentence is life without parole. If found innocent by reason of insanity, the sentence is confinement for an indefinite period of treatment. Other verdicts, including manslaughter and not guilty, are also possible.

&#8220The evidence will show the man was mad,” said Scott Johnson of the Attorney General’s Office, who is joining Claiborne County District Attorney Alexander Martin and Crystal Springs attorney Marty Arrington in presenting the case. &#8220There’s a big difference between being mad and being insane.”

The charges say Brandon waited for Burrell to arrive at his office, then fired at him with a shotgun as he stepped out of his vehicle just after 8 a.m., killing the attorney almost instantly.

Brandon next drove to the home of then-Claiborne County Administrator James Miller and fired several blasts into the home. Akina Barnes, a 16-year-old who lived with her grandfather near the Millers’ home, testified Wednesday about hearing the gunshots. She said the blasts were aimed at the Miller residence. Miller was home, but not injured. His family was out of town.

In testimony this morning, Assistant Port Gibson Police Chief Terrence Watkins said five empty shells were found outside Miller’s home.

The next shooting scene was the Claiborne County Road Department building on Mississippi 18. Clerical employee Loretha Porter was wounded at her desk. Dr. Michael Gleason of University Medical Center, where Porter was hospitalized for five days, said the wounds were to each side of her abdomen and were life-threatening because of the type of weapon used, a handgun, and their location.

Also testifying was Claiborne County Chief Deputy Freddie Yarbrough, who told jurors he read Brandon his rights before arresting him upon when Brandon drove to his last stop and turned himself in at the sheriff’s department about 8:30 a.m.

Yarbrough’s testimony indicated an arsenal was found inside Brandon’s SUV at the time, including the 12-gauge shotgun used to kill Burrell, a sawed-off shotgun, the pistol used to wound Porter and another rifle.

An empty liquor bottle was also found inside the vehicle, Yarbrough testified.

Another witness, sheriff’s office secretary Willie Mae Lush, was called by prosecutors because she recorded the voluntary statement by Brandon, one that was videotaped and shown to jurors.

In her testimony, Lush said she incorrectly dated the transcript Nov. 17, 2006, instead of March 17, and Brandon’s date of birth as Nov. 15, 2006, which she chalked up to confusing the date with Brandon’s birth date, Nov. 15.

On cross-examination, Blackmon took Lush to task for making such an error and pointed out that his client read the document before signing it.

&#8220He missed two important things, the date he was born and the date he signed it,” Blackmon said.

Burrell, Miller and Porter all had roles in the 1997 dismissal of Brandon, who for years said he had been wrongly accused in order for a political change to be made in county employment.

His wrongful termination case made it to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which refused to hear the matter in 2002, which had the effect of upholding the firing.

Brandon continued to live in Port Gibson and even attended a board of supervisors’ meeting the night before the Friday morning shooting spree. He worked, however, in Vicksburg, as a special populations teacher at Vicksburg High.

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.

His wife, Michelle, has long been an organizer of the annual Main Street Heritage Festival in Port Gibson, which in 2006 was held just a week after the shooting.

Judge Frank Vollor of Vicksburg’s 9th Circuit Court is presiding and ordered the trial moved to a larger facility than the Claiborne County Courthouse. Hattiesburg Lodge No. 397 was about three-fourths full Wednesday.

The building is being used for Forrest County court proceedings because the regular circuit courtroom is being treated for Katrina-related mold in its air conditioning system.