By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
A south Mississippi woman was beaten, bound and burned within an inch of her life in the Pratts community on Sept. 14 and Mississippi law has no statute to charge the suspects for attempted murder.
After speaking with one of the suspects, Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said, he learned they thought the victim was dead when they set her on fire.
Had the victim been dead and the suspects still caught and arrested, they could have been charged with murder – possibly capital murder – but because she rolled the fire out and somehow made her way to a nearby house, the suspects received lesser charges.
Christopher Mink, 40, of Baldwyn, is charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault and third-degree arson with a bond of $1 million and the other suspect, Cherie Clark, 40, of Baldwyn, is charged with aggravated assault and kidnapping. Clark’s bond was set at $500,000 last week. Both are still in the Lee County jail.
Johnson said that, from talking to the victim, other accounts and evidence, they believe she was bound with plastic zip ties, assaulted and then transported in the back of a truck to a dump site where she was covered in a lighter-fluid-like accellereant and set on fire.
The victim is recovering at an undisclosed location and Johnson said doctors have given her hope of surviving her injuries.
Johnson said if the victim does not survive, he will push for the death penalty.
If found guilty, Mink could receive up to a life sentence in Mississippi Department of Corrections’ custody for kidnapping and up to 23 years in the state penitentiary for assault and arson. He also could get one year in the state penitentiary and one year in MDOC custody, according to the law’s minimum charges.
“When you look at aggravated assault, whether they broke her arm or she’s in the shape she’s in now, it’s the same penalty,” Johnson said. “That’s a lot to play with.”
District Attorney Trent Kelly said he and other public prosecutors have been in talks with state legislators about the way murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault charges are worded.
“There are conversations like attempted murder we’ve been having for six months of so,” Kelly said. “I think an attempted murder statute would be helpful.”
Johnson said a statute that based on aggravated assault or attempted murder penalty on the extent and duration of a victim’s injuries would be something he would like to see.
“If it’s a broken arm that looks like it will heal, that’s one thing,” Johnson said. “But if you lose some means of ability or eyesight or hearing – if you’re losing that, I think the aggravated assault should have a different minimum for loss of quality of life sustained, based on the longevity of the injuries.”
The amount of time served under each penalty ultimately is chosen by the judge, if a jury finds the suspect guilty. In the case of kidnapping, if the jury agrees on a life sentence, the suspect receives a life sentence; but if they find the suspect guilty and can’t agree on a life sentence, the judge can give the suspect between one and 30 years in MDOC custody.
Mink and Clark are set to appear before the next grand jury in the First Judicial District. Johnson said he is comfortable going to court with the evidence and testimony they have now.
A circuit court hold has been placed on Mink, pending a hearing slated for Friday. At the hearing, the court will be petitioned to revoke Mink’s $1 million bond, meaning he could remain in jail until his trial.