Murder case called ‘witch hunt,’ suspect’s obsession

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 16, 2010

PURVIS — Attorneys swapped opposing theories in their opening statements and a Lamar County deputy testified Monday as the murder trial for Jennifer Wardle, 29, began in the death of James Neal May on May 1, 2002.

Stanley Alexander, special assistant attorney general, said the state would present evidence that Wardle had become obsessed with May, but May had tried to end the relationship. “Jennifer thought this was a fairy-tale relationship, and what happened shows how desperate she was to keep him in her life,” Alexander said in his opening statement. “If she couldn’t have him, nobody else could.”

Jim Dukes, one of Wardle’s attorneys, said his client, who was pregnant at the time May died, was being prosecuted eight years after May’s death only because “the state became involved because of the political connections between Mr. May’s family in Jackson,” the state capital.

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“This is not a joking matter,” Dukes told the jury. “This is not a hoop-and-holler matter. This is a sad matter because there is a death. This is a sad matter because there is a child with no father. But it’s really a sad matter because it’s a witch hunt.”

Dukes reminded jurors that local law enforcement did not arrest or charge Wardle and that May’s death certificate lists suicide as the cause.

Deputy Billy McAlpin testified he arrived at a 4th Street mobile home about 5 a.m. and found May on a bed, dead from a single bullet wound to the back of his head. He said that a small group of people had gathered outside, and said that Wardle was at the scene.

Although when asked if the same woman was sitting at the defense table, the best McAlpin could do was say that he believed so.

McAlpin testified that he had given Wardle a standard witness statement form and told her “to just write it all down,” but that he did not get the form back from her, believing that the lead investigator who had arrived on the scene had gathered witness statements to be placed in the case file.

When Alexander moved to submit Wardle’s statement as evidence, Judge R.I. Prichard sustained the objection that the written statement could not be verified as the same one Wardle wrote out that morning.

“He hasn’t stated that he saw her sign it or that he got the paper back from her,” Prichard said.

In interviews, the family of May, a Vicksburg native and University of Southern Mississippi senior, have said they asked the state Attorney General’s Office to review the case. On Oct. 10, 2007, Wardle was indicted. She has been free on $100,000 bail.

Testimony was to continue today.

Tim Doherty writes for the Hattiesburg American