Alcorn County jury acquits Mask of murder
By Jane Clark Summers
Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
CORINTH – After deliberating for a little more than two hours, an Alcorn County Circuit Court jury acquitted Buford Mask, 49, of murder in connection with the Feb. 17, 1993, shooting death of Rabon Lee “Junior” Smith.
Smith, 27, died from a single gunshot wound between the eyes. Mask admitted killing Smith, but claimed he shot in self-defense after Smith attacked him with a knife. Police arriving at the scene photographed the victim lying on the floor with a knife in his open left palm.
The shooting occurred at a Corinth restaurant and lounge formerly known as Dundees.
The outcome of the case hung on the testimony of a man who was sitting at the table with the defendant and the victim when the shooting occurred. Wardell Mattox, the prosecution’s key witness, had changed his version of what happened from initial statements he gave to police.
In instructions to the jury, Judge Barry Ford advised jurors that if a witness gave prior inconsistent statements, they could take those inconsistencies into account when considering all of his testimony.
Defense attorney Joey Langston said Mattox, who fled before police arrived at the shooting scene, didn’t magically become a good citizen in one day. Mattox recanted earlier statements corroborating Mask’s claims of self-defense after being arrested on outstanding warrants for unpaid fines.
“He is a documented liar,” Langston said, begging the jury not to send a man to jail for life based on a “confirmed” liar’s word. “Is it reasonable to think that my client would take a gun and kill a man in a crowded bar for no reason?” Langston asked.
Assistant District Attorney Jim Pounds argued that the evidence – including blood splatters, a fingerprint on the knife and the angle the bullet struck Smith – substantiated Mattox’s testimony. Forensic pathologist Dr. Thomas McLees testified the bullet severed Smith’s brain stem, causing instant clinical death and preventing the victim from making any other purposeful move.
Testimony indicated Mask was sitting at a table with his son, Jerry Mask, and Mattox when Smith came over and squatted down beside the younger Mask. Blood splatters show the victim was shot while in the squatted position and was moved, McLees testified.
When Mask saw Smith coming toward them, he asked his son for his knife, Mattox testified. Fingerprint experts identified a partial latent print on the knife as belonging to Jerry Mattox. The “magic knife” was planted in the victim’s hand as part of a conspiracy to make the murder look like self-defense, said Assistant District Attorney Rowland Geddie.
“Wardell told you what happened and scientific facts back him up,” Pounds said. But Mattox was the only witness during the five-day trial to state that he saw the defendant pressing the dead man’s fingers around the knife or even standing near the body. Reports indicated there were 10 to 12 other people in Dundees when the shooting occurred.
In a statement given during a preliminary Justice Court hearing, Mask said Smith kept coming back up at him after he was shot. “He was a hell of a man,” Mask said in that statement. When he took the stand Thursday, Mask said he must have thought that because the victim appeared to come up and twist to the left before falling back.
The .38-caliber handgun, which Mask said he left on the table at Dundees, was never recovered.