By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
Kim Kirk Cox was a dead woman walking – an ill-fated target for her hell-bent husband.
He shot her twice on May 14, 2010, at her sister’s trailer in Sherman, and for seven hours he held potentially life-saving help at bay until she bled to death.
Now, 42-year-old David Neal Cox Sr. waits to die on Mississippi State Penitentiary’s death row.
Could her death have been prevented?
What does her death say about the value of protection orders?
And finally, did anything good come from this Northeast Mississippi family tragedy?
• • •
Kim Evette Kirk Cox was a 40-year-old mother of two young daughters when she met David Cox through a friend at work.
The tall, soft-spoken man aggressively courted her, and they married not too long after.
They had two sons about 10 months apart.
But, as witnesses in his recent Union County punishment trial said, something happened to the old David Cox they knew. He abused pain killers for a nagging back injury. And he began to take methamphetamine.
Their marriage fell off the proverbial cliff in early 2009 when Kim told authorities he’d sexually abused her 12-year-old daughter. When Pontotoc County deputies came to arrest him, they found precursors, or ingredients to make meth. They charged him with their possession, as well as child endangerment, sexual battery and statutory rape.
Justice Court Judge Phil Weeks, now deceased, set David Cox’s bond at $200,000.
From the very start of his stay in the Pontotoc County Jail on Aug. 6, 2009, cellmates told the court that he repeatedly promised to kill Kim.
On Feb. 3, 2010, a Pontotoc County grand jury indicted him on the precursors and child endangerment charges, but the District Attorney’s Office couldn’t get additional formal charges on the allegations he’d sexually abused the minor girl.
Judge Thomas J. Gardner III set his bond at $13,000, but with Weeks’ bond still in effect, David Cox could not make bail.
Months later, things changed.
On April 8, 2010, Cox’s attorney, James Johnstone of Pontotoc, formally asked the circuit court to lower his client’s bond, saying the situation was “tantamount to no bond at all,” because of Cox’s limited income and resources.
The bond-reduction document told the court that Weeks would not have set bond at all, if the proof had been greater or if Cox posed “a special danger to anyone in the community.”
Larry Baker, now with the state attorney general’s office, was the assistant district attorney assigned to the Cox case.
Baker said recently he couldn’t talk about it because the Pontotoc charges are still pending.
And so, on April 9, 2010, Judge Jim Seth Pounds ordered Cox’s bond reduced on the remaining charges from $200,000 to $50,000.
Pontotoc County Jail notes show Cox got the news that day, although there’s no indication of his reaction.
Three days later, his sister, Linda Carpenter, co-signed the All-Pro Bonding papers, and put up $6,300 as surety for his total $63,000 bond.
David Cox was a free man with instructions to return to court May 27 to answer to all cases against him.
That would never happen.
• • •
Kim’s parents, Bennie and Melody Kirk, say Kim called them in horror to report that David Cox was out of jail.
“I told her I didn’t believe it,” Bennie Kirk recalls.
Kim began to call the sheriff’s office, under different leadership then, to report what she perceived as threats.
Bennie Kirk says David stalked his daughter, and at one point at a traffic stop, “pointed his finger at Kim like a gun and fired three times.”
“She was terrified of him,” her sister, Christy Kirk Salmon, said in the Union County court.
Eleven days after David’s release on bond, Kim petitioned the Pontotoc County Chancery Court for a restraining order against her husband. Two days later, it was granted temporarily.
David Cox was ordered not to come near his wife and children, not to communicate with them in any way.
In her petition for the “domestic abuse protective order,” Kim told the court that on July 30, 2009, David threatened to kill her with a gun he’d borrowed from a neighbor.
During Cox’s punishment trial, former neighbor Raymond Smith admitted he’d taken a gun away from him.
Kim’s plea to the court also said he’d called her while he was jail and threatened to kill her when she refused to bring his young sons to visit him.
She also told the court he’d been sexually abusing her daughter since about 2005.
Chancellor Jacqueline Mask signed the protective order on May 6, 2010, with the warning to David that if he violated it, he could be subject to arrest and prosecution for a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or six months in jail, or both. He also might lose his ability to possess or purchase a firearm, it said.
• • •
National crime statistics show that nearly two out of five female murder victims are killed by what’s termed “an intimate,” a husband or boyfriend. Two-thirds of them are killed with a gun.
Every day in the U.S., three women are killed by their husbands or boyfriends. Mississippi ranks fifth in the nation for domestic violence homicides.
For the year through Sept. 30, the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office identified 17 separate incidents of alleged homicide involving “domestic” relationships resulting in the deaths of 23 people. Four died in the same incident.
Ironically, Attorney General Jim Hood says the danger level may increase if the victim reports the abuse or tries to end the relationship.
“For a domestic abuser seeking power and control by violence, an attempt by the victim to break free may be seen as threatening to the abuser,” Hood notes.
“It is extremely important for victims to be aware of acts signaling potential for increased violence – but it is equally important for law enforcement officers and courts to which victims turn for assistance to understand these factors as well, recognize them and take these situations seriously.”
In Mississippi, police or deputies do not need a warrant to arrest someone within 24 hours of an abusive act.
The 2011, Legislature passed two new tools to boost the fight against domestic violence:
• A judge can require alleged offenders to wear a tracking device as part of their bond conditions, which could allow victims to monitor their movements.
• It is illegal for anyone to stop a victim from calling for help.
These days, Mississippi law enforcement and judges get training about domestic violence.
S.A.F.E. Inc. in Tupelo provides temporary shelter, other help and advice for women and their children in Alcorn, Benton, Itawamba, Lee, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Union, Tippah and Tishomingo counties.
• • •
At her brother-in-law’s punishment trial, Christy Salmon told the court her sister was so afraid of David that their brother stayed at her Ecru home for a while and then Kim and the children moved into Christy’s trailer home in Sherman.
That’s where David shot his way in on May 14, 2010, and shot Kim twice.
It’s no secret, law enforcement officers say, that if someone is bound and determined to kill you, they can – protective orders or not.
District Attorney Ben Creekmore of New Albany, who prosecuted David Cox because Kim’s murder occurred in part of his district, says that if his office had handled the earlier cases against Cox, he hopes more could have been done.
“Frankly, he would have gotten out of jail eventually,” Creekmore admits, looking at a relatively short prison sentence if Cox were convicted on the precursors and child endangerment charges.
The Pontotoc County legal process delayed Kim’s murder for a time and Raymond Smith delayed it a little longer, when he took David’s gun. Whatever was done, it merely postponed the inevitable.
“He was not going to be deterred,” Creekmore notes with regret in his voice.
Nowadays, when families break apart, emotions can be high. But when a break-up combines with criminal behavior and drugs – as in the Cox case – it’s a very dangerous situation, the district attorney observes.
“Something more needs to be done,” he adds, about protecting potential victims.
New steps are being taken, Creekmore says, to require someone like David Cox to undergo a psychological evaluation after he’s charged and to specify certain behavior – like threats – as part of a condition on his bond. If threats are made, the defendant’s bond is revoked and he’s back in jail.
Coming more than a year too late for Kim Cox, new state laws require court clerks to enter all domestic abuse protection orders into the Mississippi Domestic Abuse Protection Order Registry.
The registry maintained by the Attorney General’s Office is available to law enforcement officers and court officials only for official purposes. Judges also must check it to see if offenders are under domestic abuse protection orders to determine appropriate bail.
“This amendment was in direct response to the Cox case,” Hood said.
• • •
At 12:20 p.m. Sept. 22, 2012, David Neal Cox Sr. heard Judge John Gregory pronounce the jury’s verdict: a death sentence for the murder of his wife, Kim.
Gregory then sentenced him to another 185 years for his guilty pleas to two kidnappings, shooting into Christy Salmon’s house and the three sexual assaults on the girl in front of her dying mother, as well as jail escape and assorted crimes associated with it.
Union County law enforcement made immediate arrangements for his transport to the state penitentiary.
Kim’s mother says the new certainty of David Cox’s incarceration, far from his children and Kim’s children, has brought them some peace.
“They feel a lot safer, they’re sleeping much better,” she said last week.
An ex-lawman, Bennie Kirk still chafes from knowing law enforcement let his family down when they needed it most. He blames then-District Attorney John Young and Assistant District Attorney Larry Baker for not doing all they could.
Young could not be reached for comment.
Kirk insists, though, that they don’t blame the judge for reducing their son-in-law’s bond, which allowed him out of jail. He didn’t know about the threats from David, Kirk notes.
Creekmore tries to look on the bright side for both sides of the families.
“Even though this was a great tragedy, these children and Kim’s other daughter,” he says, “… they’re now safe with the hope for a stable life.”