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WATER VALLEY – Last year will go down as a historic year on many fronts including the number of homicides in Yalobusha County.
“We had more murders last year than I have ever had in my district,” District Attorney John Champion reported Monday. “I wish I had an answer for it.”
Champion was on the scene in Water Valley Sunday afternoon to assist with the investigation of the county’s first homicide in 2021 and reported a suspect was arrested and charged with first degree murder (see related story, page 1). He has served as district attorney in the 17th Court District for decades and reported that the 31 murders in 2020 was the most during his career. That is 31 murders in his five county district – Desoto, Tate, Panola, Yalobusha, Tallahatchie and Yalobusha. Six of the 31 murders were in Yalobusha County, which is also a record in recent decades.
While Sunday’s homicide in Water Valley was basically an open and shut case, Champion provided information about four unsolved murders last year in Yalobusha County.
“These cases are separate and distinct, there is no common thread between all of these cases,” the longtime prosecutor explained. “I can also say that we do not believe any of them are random.”
His input follows the latest investigation after a body was discovered inside a burned mobile home on Patricia Drive in the Water Valley Boat Landing Community a day after Christmas. Champion said investigators are still awaiting the results of an autopsy that could provide investigators with more information about the death of 38 year-old Kristina Michelle Jones.
The first homicide in 2020 occurred on March 28 when Charleston resident Barney Edward Frost, Jr., was gunned down on Hwy. 7, south of Water Valley. Authorities reported the altercation started in Lafayette County with a shooting during an argument stemming from a high stakes wager on a street race. According to incident reports, two vehicles left the scene and headed south on Hwy. 7 and entered Yalobusha County during a high speed chase where numerous shots were fired. Frost was a passenger in the vehicle and fatally shot by an occupant in the second vehicle.
No arrest has been made in the case, but Champion reported Monday that a suspect has been identified. He also said authorities are processing technical information in the case.
“We are still waiting on cell phone data, which tends to take a while. We are getting those (cell) tower dumps,” the district attorney added.
Less than two months later firefighters recovered two badly burned bodies inside a mobile home fire on County Road 294, just west of Water Valley. Investigators determined that Jennifer Nault, age 36, and Richard Dicken, age 56, had both been shot before their home was torched on May 17. No arrests have been made in this case either, but the district attorney provided valuable insight.
“They are working on this case diligently, we should have some positive news coming very shortly on this case,” Champion told the Herald.
A second double homicide occurred on July 12 after a mother and daughter were gunned down during a domestic dispute at a residence on Hwy. 32 East, just outside the city limits of Water Valley. Jeannette Johnson, 50, and Brianna Johnson, 20, were fatally shot by Willie Ike Harris.
The incident led to a six hour standoff as a barrage of law enforcement officers responded and including a SWAT team and negotiators who attempted to get Harris to surrender. The standoff ended when Harris took his own life.
Champion also explained delays at Mississippi’s Office of the Medical Examiner in Jackson often hamper investigations.
“It is horrendous, as far the time it takes,” Champion said about the autopsy reports that can take months, or even almost a year before they are available. “We have trials that are waiting,” he added.
In the death on Dec. 26 in the Boat Landing Community, Yalobusha County Coroner Ronnie Stark reported the body was transported to the medical examiner’s office on Dec. 28. The body was stored in a cooler for 11 days before the autopsy was done on Jan. 8. Stark said the results are still pending.