Judge denies bond for UM student charged with murder in Jay Lee case

A Lafayette County Circuit Court judge on Tuesday found police had probable cause to arrest Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr., a 22-year-old University of Mississippi graduate, for the murder of Jimmie “Jay” Lee. 

Judge Gray Tollison then denied bond to Herrington as Lee, a 20-year-old Black student who was well known in Oxford’s LGBTQ community, has been missing since July 8. 

As sheriff’s deputies led Herrington down the front steps of the courthouse and into a squad car, nearly a dozen protesters – many of them students who were friends with Lee – shouted in unison: “Where is Jay?” 

Lee was well-known on campus for his involvement in the LGBTQ community. Credit: Courtesy Oxford Police Department

Over the course of nearly six hours, the prosecution laid out a theory that Herrington and Lee had a casual relationship. Lafayette County Assistant District Attorney Tiffany Kilpatrick argued that following an argument in the morning of July 8, Herrington “lured” Lee to his apartment where he strangled him, then “staged a cover up.” 

“In 2022 you do not need a body,” Kilpatrick said in her closing statement. “It’s not the 1870s.” 

The preliminary hearing occurred on Tuesday because Herrington was entitled to hear the evidence that Oxford police used to obtain an arrest warrant before his bond hearing. 

The prosecution argued that Herrington should be denied bond because his charge – first-degree murder – will likely be elevated to capital murder as police uncover more evidence; some of which is being processed at a private crime lab. Kilpatrick also argued Herrington was a flight risk, noting that a forensic search of his MacBook showed he had searched for flights from Dallas to Singapore. 

Herrington’s defense attorney, state Rep. Kevin Horan, disputed that Herrington, who has $1,910 in his bank account, could afford to flee the state. In his closing statement, Horan said the prosecution’s case amounted to “suspicion, conjecture and speculation.” 

“We’re not supposed to be sensational in these cases – we’re supposed to come in and treat everyone the same … no matter how many cameras are up there or how many people are outside,” Horan said in his closing statement, referring to the protesters whose chants occasionally could be heard in the second-floor courtroom. 

The hearing began with Kilpatrick calling Lee’s mother, Stepanie Lee, and Oxford Police Department Detective Ryan Baker to testify. 

Baker testified he arrested Herrington on July 22 based on the “totality of the evidence.” This included Snapchat messages, Google searches on Herrington’s computer, and DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department K-9s who he said identified the smell of a dead body in Herrington’s apartment, car and moving truck which belongs to his company, T&T Moving. Other evidence included video surveillance on July 8 of a man that Baker identified as Herrington running from Molly Barr Trail, where police believe he parked Lee’s car that morning, then retrieving a shovel and wheelbarrow from his parent’s house in Grenada.

Baker also testified that video showed Herrington retrieving a shovel and wheelbarrow from his parent’s house in Grenada. 

The most damning evidence in Baker’s testimony was a Google search that Herrington made on July 8, minutes after Lee sent a Snapchat message saying he was coming over. At 5:54 a.m., Herrington searched, “how long does it take to strangle someone gabby petito.”

Gabby Petito was a 22-year-old who gained national attention last summer when she went missing; it was later determined she was killed by strangulation. 

After Baker read the Google search, multiple people gasped in the courtroom, prompting Kilpatrick to ask him to repeat the line. 

Baker then testified that Herrington followed with a second search 156 seconds later: “does pre-work boost testosterone.” Kilpatrick argued in her closing statement that Herrington “probably” took pre-work before killing Lee. 

During Baker’s cross examination, Horan argued that the K-9 evidence – without accompanying DNA evidence or bodily fluids – is not admissible in court in Mississippi and that OPD could not prove the dogs utilized by DeSoto County had ever successfully identified the smell of a dead body. 

Horan then called four witnesses who testified to Herrington’s connection to the community in Grenada. Herrington’s mother, Tina Herrington, read several pages listing Herrington’s religious and academic accomplishments, including that Herrington was voted “most likely to be president” when he graduated high school in 2018. 

Emily Tindell, the principal of Grenada High School, testified that Herrington and his family have “the best of character in Grenada County.” 

During the hearing, Tayla Carey, Lee’s sister, sat in the front row next to her mother. She said the hearing was a “rollercoaster.” She said that Lee had just as many achievements as Herrington. 

“I’m mad, I’m sad, I’m irritated,” she said. “I’m all over the place, honestly. I just want justice, I just want peace.” 

Spectators steadily left the courtroom as the hearing dragged on. Before the hearing started, dozens of people were protesting outside the courthouse, including LGBTQ rights activists fron across Mississippi. 

The next step in the case is the grand jury hearing; the date has not yet been set.

The post Judge denies bond for UM student charged with murder in Jay Lee case appeared first on Mississippi Today.

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