Capital murder case among those before grand jury|[05/06/08]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A death penalty prosecution may result from one of the approximately 85 criminal cases set to be reviewed by the May term of the Warren County Grand Jury empaneled Monday.

Facing a capital murder charge is Soloman “Dewey” Harris, 43, 2908 Arcadia St., accused of killing 48-year-old Harold R. Scott Nov. 21, at the victim’s home and then robbing him.

If grand jurors invoke Mississippi’s felony-murder statute, the county’s first death penalty trial in at least 16 years could follow. There was none during the four terms of former District Attorney Gil Martin, and the Harris case would be a first for District Attorney Ricky Smith, who took office in January.

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Under state law, the death penalty is possible only in specific circumstances such as the death of a law enforcement officer or while committing a separate crime such as rape, arson or robbery. Warren County Coroner Doug Huskey said Scott died from one shot to the head. Police said the victim was also robbed.

If a person is indicted and convicted of capital murder, the same panel of jurors is asked to deliberate again. Absent agreement to impose lethal injection, the minimum sentence is life.

“I have no deep-seeded animosity toward the death penalty,” Smith said in November, just days after Scott died. “If the evidence shows that capital murder charges and the death penalty are necessary, that’s what I will pursue.”

About nine hours after Scott was killed, Harris surrendered at the Warren County Sheriff’s Department and was turned over to Vicksburg police for questioning. In addition to capital murder, Harris also faces weapons possession charges. Harris has been convicted of seven felonies – two for grand larceny, two for sale of cocaine, burglary, sale of marijuana and shoplifting.

Scott was the father of two sons, and he was described by his sister, Loretta Brantley of Vicksburg, as a “generous, helpful handyman.” Brantley also said Scott was in the Army for 12 years. The homicide was the last of Vicksburg’s eight in 2007.

Also facing a potential indictment is Brandy Wallace, 26, who is charged with driving drunk and running down and killing an 81-year-old man on Roseland Drive on Nov. 5.

Killed at about 4 that afternoon as he was retrieving his mail was John E. Parrette. Vicksburg Police Lt. Bobby Stewart said Wallace was northbound with no passengers on Roseland at an unknown speed when her 2002 Toyota Tacoma went off the street and hit Parrette.

Parrette, a retired civil engineer and technician at Waterways Experiment Station, was pronounced dead at the scene. Huskey said an autopsy showed Parrette died from head trauma.

Stewart said evidence at the scene led police to believe Wallace was intoxicated. She was arrested and charged with felony aggravated DUI, an offense that carries a sentence of five to 25 years in prison and requires a minimum 85 percent of the sentence be served.

At her initial court appearance that same week, Wallace pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors, driving without proof of liability insurance and driving with a license suspended due to a still-pending DUI case.

Parrette was the father of two daughters, Rebecca P. Brasfield of Vicksburg and Rachel P. Gray of Jackson. He also had three grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. His wife, Mary, is deceased.

His death was the fourth vehicular fatality in Vicksburg and the 13th in the county for 2007.

Altogether, Smith said this week’s grand jury would examine about 85 charges against 70 defendants. Many, he said, were drug cases.

Warren County grand juries are chosen each January, May, July and October. Law enforcement officers present cases, and jurors decide if there is enough evidence for a criminal trial. If so, indictments are issued and defendants, most of whom have been free on bond, appear at a formal arraignment to hear the charges they face. Most then remain free on bond pending resolution of the indictments through a trial or plea bargains.