First day of trial over in '04 Corinth murder

BY LENA MITCHELL

Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

CORINTH – On the first day of testimony in the murder trial of Rodarius Stewart, 20, of Corinth, the jury heard the defendant's account of what happened in his own words.

Stewart is charged in the June 6, 2004 shooting death of Tyler Gant Hamlin of Corinth.

Hamlin died about 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning after an altercation at a Corinth residence among guests at a Saturday night party.

Hamlin was shot once and the bullet went through the back of his left shoulder, out through his collarbone, and re-entered his body through his neck where it lodged, according to Wednesday testimony by police Capt. Ralph Dance, who led the 2004 investigation.

Hamlin died later at Magnolia Regional Health Center, and Stewart was arrested and charged.

Prosecutor Arch Bullard obtained permission from Judge Sharion Aycock to play a tape of Stewart's statement to Dance that was made several hours after the incident.

Possible racial undertones

In his statement Stewart said he fired two shots at random from a handgun after he and other friends attending the party were threatened and “rushed” by a group of “white boys.”

Stewart's taped statement hinted at the racial undertones of the incident. Stewart is black and victim Hamlin was white.

During his questioning of Dance, prosecutor Bullard emphasized that although Stewart's statement said individuals were approaching him in a threatening way, Hamlin was shot in the back.

The packed courtroom included observers who appeared to place themselves along a racial divide, with Stewart's family and supporters on one side and Hamlin family and friends on the other. Hamlin was the grandson of former Alcorn County Sheriff Bill Gant.

Testimony continues in Alcorn County Circuit Court today.

Contact Daily Journal reporter Lena Mitchell at 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@djournal.com