Questions raised in case against Miss. teens Bails drastically reduced, 1 freed on recognizance

October 14, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

After charging six teen-age boys with conspiring to plan a recent shooting spree at a high school in Pearl, Miss., police have quietly released two of them on bail, transferred two to a youth court and sent one home on his own recognizance, raising questions yesterday about the future of the case.

"From $2 million bond to free on his own recognizance," said one of the teens' lawyers, smirking as he walked into the police station. "Quite a change."

Initially tight-lipped about the investigation, police were even more guarded as they began freeing and transferring the alleged conspirators.

Residents in Pearl, a suburb of the state capital at Jackson, inferred from last week's dramatic arrests that all six were public menaces who helped 16-year-old Luke Woodham, now charged in the Oct. 1 rampage that claimed the lives of his mother, former girlfriend and a fellow student. Seven other people were injured.

Rumors of cult activity

Rumors swirled around the community that the teens were involved in some sort of cult activity. The gossip was further fueled by talk of a close-knit group of disaffected youths.

A note Woodham reportedly gave to another youth before the school shootings stated: "I am not insane. I am angry. I am not spoiled or lazy, for murder is not weak and slow-witted. Murder is gutsy and daring. I killed because people like me are mistreated every day. I did this to show society, 'Push us and we will push back.' "

Police have not disclosed what evidence led them to make the arrests of the six other youths, letting the unusually high bonds -- $1 million for four of the teens, $2 million for the other two -- speak for themselves. Woodham is being held without bond.

"The million-dollar bond is one that I've never seen before," said Wayne Milner, a lawyer for one of the teens. "It was either ridiculously high, or just about the same as no bond in the first place."

But now those bonds have been drastically reduced. Delbert Alan Shaw, 18, was released on $3,000 bond, while Wesley Brownell, 17, was freed on $50,000. Also, Justin Sledge and Lucas Thompson, both 16, were reportedly transferred to youth court, where the charges against them would carry much less severe penalties.

Sixteen-year-old Donald Brooks II was released on his own recognizance, leading his lawyer to predict that charges against him are about to be dropped.

'No bearing on the charges'

Not so, a prosecutor said yesterday.

"It has no bearing on the charges at all," assistant district attorney Jim Kelly said of the bond reductions. "It's the purpose of the bond to ensure that somebody will appear at court, and we're anticipating [these teens] are not going to be a flight risk."

Kelly vowed that a hearing scheduled for this afternoon for 18-year-old Grant Boyette will shed much light on the alleged XTC conspiracy.

Boyette is one of two teens charged with a second count of conspiracy to commit murder. The other is Brooks. Both are accused of conspiring to kill not only fellow students but Brooks' father as well.

'A perfect defense'

A lawyer for Brooks, however, said prosecutors are realizing that they made a terrible mistake.

"We have a perfect defense," said James D. Bell, who insisted that Brooks had shunned the other suspects in the past few months, and that he was a model child.

"This kid is in the school band, he has a part-time job, and I've accounted for where he goes every day," Bell said. "He's in church every time it's open. He doesn't have time to be a conspirator."

Bell said Brooks also had a warm reunion Friday night with the father he was accused of plotting to kill.

"It was just a terrific embrace," Bell said.

Pub Date: 10/14/97

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