By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Thomas James Ward was sentenced Thursday to 20 years, with six suspended, for the 2010 shooting death of Anna Catherine McCoy.
Ward, 25, of Saltillo also was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, court fees and court costs. Restitution apparently will be handled through separate proceedings.
Circuit Judge James L. Roberts Jr. pronounced his sentence before a crowd of about 50 people in the Lee County Justice Center courtroom.
Nearly a dozen sheriff’s deputies were among those on hand.
“When she died, I stopped living,” Anna McCoy’s mother, Allison, told the crowd during family statements to the court. “I know she is an angel now, but I can’t say goodbye.”
Allison McCoy and another woman had to read statements from Jimmy “Cotton” McCoy, her father, and Jim McCoy, her brother, as the men stood by weeping.
“I go to the cemetery, talk to her and I’m sorry I could not protect her,” Allison McCoy read for her daughter’s father. “I will never be the same person again.”
After his letter was read, Cotton McCoy turned directly to Ward and said, “Why? I understand why she never told me who you were.”
Ward did not respond to the question, and his family declined to make any statements in the hour-long hearing.
Roberts said Ward will get credit for time served in custody.
Anna McCoy died from a single gunshot to the face on April 15, 2010, in Ward’s bedroom at his parents’ home after she and Ward had gone on a dinner date.
During a nine-day trial and jury deliberation last May, he insisted her death was a tragic accident. Prosecutors said it was so egregious an act that he was charged with depraved-heart murder.
The jury could not make a unanimous decision and Roberts declared a mistrial.
Punishment for depraved-heart murder is life in prison without possibility of parole or the death penalty, which was not in effect in this case.
Facing the possibility he could be tried again, Ward pleaded guilty July 6 to a lesser charge, culpable negligence manslaughter.
He faced up to 20 years in prison for that crime.
Anna McCoy was a popular, 20-year-old soccer player at Itawamba Community College when she died. Her family also was well known in the area, especially because her father was a longtime Tupelo police officer.