CANTON — A former firefighter accused of fatally shooting a defendant outside a Canton, Mississippi, courthouse was found guilty of first-degree murder Tuesday.
William Wells, 24, will serve life in prison for the Aug. 3, 2015 shooting of Kendrick Brown, 37. That morning Wells drove his truck to the Madison County Courthouse parking lot where Brown stood outside awaiting trial for drug possession. Wells then approached Brown and shot him once in the chest.
Wells’ mother, Sherry, was shot in the leg the previous Saturday night while driving to work. She was scheduled to testify against Brown in his trial. Brown had twice served time for possession of marijuana and cocaine and faced possible life in prison without parole under Mississippi’s three strikes law.
As to whether Wells killed Brown, defense lawyer John Christopher said, “You can check that one off.”
At stake was whether Wells was guilty of first-degree murder. State prosecutors had to prove he “willfully” acted with “deliberate design and malice aforethought.”
Christopher said Brown repeatedly threatened the Wells family after he was indicted. He said a family friend said Brown offered him cash to kill Sherry Wells. Christopher said William Wells was driving to the courthouse to discuss the threats with authorities when his fear and anxiety boiled over upon seeing Brown in the parking lot.
The jury didn’t hear Christopher’s allegations.
Circuit Court Judge Steve Ratcliff ruled testimony about anything other than the day of the shooting was inadmissible.
The jury did hear from forensic experts who determined Brown died from the single gunshot, that the gun Wells used matched the single bullet casing found at the scene, and that the serial number on the gun matched the sales receipt found in the glove compartment of Wells’ truck.
Jurors also heard testimony from Brown’s former lawyer Rusty Williard, who was outside the courthouse when Brown was shot, and two sheriff’s deputies who saw the scene from inside the glass-walled courthouse lobby.
District Attorney Michael Guest said their testimony established Wells exited his truck with a gun in hand, walked up to Brown while yelling — to which Brown responded “I didn’t do it” — stuck the gun barrel into Brown’s chest and fired. He then held the gun over Brown’s body until he laid his gun down and surrendered to officials, Guest said.
Christopher asked the jury to examine each piece of evidence and consider whether it showed deliberate design.
“If any act is deliberate, you gotta weigh it out,” he said. “Keep in mind that making a snap decision to kill somebody is not deliberate design.”
He said if jury members weren’t convinced of just one of the elements of first-degree murder that meant Wells was not guilty.
“The state doesn’t get a pass if they only prove three out of four elements,” Christopher said.
Assistant District Attorney Bryan Buckely said the definition of “deliberate design” didn’t call for a “premeditated plan.”
“If you use those words, than you are violating your oath,” he told the jury.
He said “every step” Wells took along the way to shoot Brown was a deliberate act, including walking 30 feet from his truck to where Brown was standing, he said.
“You all had to walk that same walk every day,” he said to the jury. “Ladies and gentlemen how manly deliberate acts do you need.”
Sherry Wells’ husband, Willie Davis, said the family didn’t blame the jury because they didn’t hear anything other than what happened the day of the shooting. He said the family plans to appeal Wells’ sentence.
“All we want is for the full story to be told,” he said.
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