By Patsy R. Brumfield
TUPELO – Travon Brown told the judge, jury and audience at his double-murder trial Thursday that he never intended for two people to die when he carried a pistol into their home in 2011.
“I take responsibility for my part, even though it was nothing intentional,” the 28-year-old man said shortly after hearing a jury declare him guilty twice.
“It doesn’t look there in the end, but I reacted in the same manner as anyone else would have acted if those same elements were present,” he said.
Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner then sentenced Brown to the mandatory term of life in prison, two terms to be served consecutively in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
Brown’s open-court statement and sentences capped four days of testimony and evidence presented before Gardner and a jury of nine women and three men, 11 white and one black.
After deputies escorted Brown from the courtroom, the families of Cornelius “Snoop” Harris and Felicia Ruffin gathered at the rear of the room to speak with prosecutors and to thank them for their efforts across the past two years.
District Attorney Trent Kelly voiced special praise for assistant Brian Neely for carrying the case from start to finish.
While Neely handled part of the witness questioning, Kelly and assistant John Weddle made closing remarks to the jury.
Brown was represented by Tupelo attorneys Shane McLaughlin and Adam Pinkard.
Harris and Ruffin died of gunshot wounds from Brown’s .40-caliber pistol near midnight Sept. 28, 2011, in Harris’ home on Chapman Drive.
Police photos displayed during the trial showed a bloody scene with bullet holes randomly into the interior walls, evidence of a struggle Brown insisted he had with Harris over the gun.
Harris was found lying on the floor shot three times, the fatal round in the lower back of his head. Ruffin sat still on the sofa’s corner, her hands folded as she turned the page of the book she was reading. Only the angle of her head, cocked back onto the sofa back, revealed she was dead from one bullet that entered her lower jaw and lodged near her spinal cord.
Police found Brown in the bathtub with a bloody gunshot wound to his hand.
McLaughlin said he will appeal the convictions.
Among appeal issues may be the court’s denial of toxicology information to the jury that Harris and Ruffin had cocaine, marijuana and alcohol in their blood. The content of Brown’s blood was never an issue in the trial.
Brown’s self-defense theory rested largely on claims Harris became aggressive and attacked him, forcing a struggle over the gun.
The jury was out only two hours, including catered lunch, before returning with the verdicts.
As Brown continued through his statements alleging he’d been treated unfairly without the drug evidence, Judge Gardner warned him, “Be careful of what you say here. Your attorneys say this isn’t the end of the world.”
Gardner then cut him off, telling him not to speak any further about prosecutors whom Brown claimed “deprived me of a fair defense.”
Speaking to Harris’ and Ruffins’ family members, Brown said he could not say he was sorry because “I know those words are not sufficient for what has been lost.
“My heart goes out to you, though many of you may think I don’t have a heart.”
He also claimed he had tried to leave the Harris home when trouble started.
In closing remarks, McLaughlin told the jury that many pieces were missing from the puzzle to tell them what happened that night.
“There is not one shred of reason why he would go to that house in a neighborhood he knew and kill two people – shoot the house up – nearly blow off his hand,” McLaughlin said. “No reason. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Kelly countered that the state did not have to show motive in the case, only that Brown committed the crimes beyond a reasonable doubt.
About 1 p.m., an hour before the jury arrived at a verdict, it sent a note to the court asking to review the testimony of the forensic pathologist who conducted Harris’ and Ruffin’s autopsies.
Why they asked for that information isn’t known, only that Gardner sent the note back, saying he could not provide them with what they sought.
“The evidence was given during the trial,” he said.