By REGINA BUTLER
Progress Staff Writer
Mitzi Below paused through her tears as she spoke of the morning last March when she faced bullets flying at her face.
“I really didn’t think he would shoot me,” she said.
Her estranged boyfriend Wylie Bankston was charged after gunning her down in broad daylight on the Court Square.
The three count indictment included one for aggravated assault against Below, count two was for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and count three, for aggravated assault against a minor child.
The 40-year-old received 20 years for count one, 3 years for count two; and 20 years with five suspended, 15 to serve, in count three, each to be served consecutively.
He will have a total of 38 years to serve after he completes the four years that was suspended last April for probation violation.
Because he was sentenced as a habitual offender the first 23 years will be served day-for-day. And those five years that the judge suspended will still be hanging when he gets out of jail well after turning 70 years old.
In the plea agreement Bankston was sentenced as a habitual offender for counts one and two and the third count was an open plea before the court with no recommendation by the state.
Below recalled the morning’s events with Bankston, who she dated, but had broken it off.
“My son [5-year-old Malik] and I went to check the mail and when we came up I saw him [Bankston] outside but I didn’t think anything about it.”
But those thoughts changed quickly when Bankston entered her office.
“He said he wanted to get some clothes from my house and I said ‘no, because I had to work.’”
Her answer didn’t set well with Bankston. He reached into his pocket and brought out a pistol that belonged to Below.
“I was in shock, but I didn’t think he would try to shoot me. I tried to talk him out of it, I said ‘you don’t want to do this.’”
Below knew she had to get her son to safety. “I ran out of the office and fell, he told me to get up. I got up and told my son to run and he ran down the sidewalk [toward the chancery court doors].
“He raised the pistol up to fire at my son and I stepped between him and my son. I heard the gun click.”
Assistant District Attorney Clay Joyner interrupted her for a moment. “Your son was running and that man,” he pointed to Bankston, “raised the gun and pulled the trigger.”
“Yes,” Below returned. And then events began to swirl faster.
“He shot me in the hand and I thought if I hit the ground and didn’t move he wouldn’t shoot any more.” She paused through her tears. “But I was wrong.” She heard the gun fire twice more and pain ripped through her face as bullets entered her body at point blank range.
“He shot you in the face the last two times while you were lying there helpless,” Joyner said. Below said yes.
Below also testified that although she has recovered from her injuries, she has a bullet lodged in the optic nerve of her left eye because the doctors are afraid it will do more harm than good to remove it.
“Is there any doubt in your mind that he meant to kill your boy?” Joyner charged.
“No,” returned Below. “Malik knew right after it happened that his mom had been shot.”
“Are you afraid of this man?” Joyner asked. “Yes,” she returned.
Bankston’s lawyer Will Bristow asked Below if she cared about Bankston. “You did have a relationship,” he said.
“I suppose your relationship has changed somewhat since he tried to murder your child and shoot you in the head,” countered Joyner. “You are the only parent that child has ever known and he had to run away looking over his shoulder watching his mama get gunned down by that man.”
Bankston apologized to the family for his actions of last spring. Part of his plea agreement is that he will never have contact again with Below or her son.
District Attorney Johnny Young was pleased for the family’s sake that the plea agreement was accepted.
“He will not even be eligible for parole for more than 30 years. He got a heavy sentence and he is going away for a long, long time. That is the way it should be with the crimes he committed.”