Judge denies motion for mistrial in Baxter case

By The Associated Press

NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) — A state judge Tuesday denied a defense motion for a mistrial at the capital murder trial of a man accused of running over a Mississippi sheriff.

Defense attorney Tom Fortner asked Judge Richard McKenzie for a mistrial for Christopher Lee Baxter after District Attorney Tony Lawrence mentioned appellate review in front of the jury.

The Sun Herald reports (http://bit.ly/IWrZLV ) Lawrence’s slip of the tongue was a “fundamental constitutional issue” that warranted the move.

After the jury was removed from the court while the motion was discussed, Lawrence acknowledged the error and apologized. McKenzie said although he thought technically Fortner was correct in seeking the mistrial, he would give instructions for the jury to disregard the remark and allow the trial — which is being held in Natchez — to continue.

The State Supreme Court appointed McKenzie, a retired Hattiesburg judge, to hear the case after local judges stepped aside. The trial was moved to Adams County after attorneys in the case agreed last year that it was unlikely they would be able to find an unbiased jury pool in George County.

Baxter, 26, of Lucedale, is accused of killing George County Sheriff Garry Welford, 62, during a high-speed chase.

Welford was run over while putting out spikes to stop Baxter’s truck and end a police chase in 2010. Officials said Baxter was wanted for missing his sentencing on a drug charge.

After an all-night manhunt, Baxter and Brandy Nicole Williams, 20, were captured the next morning at a mobile home about six miles north of the scene.

If convicted, Baxter would face life in prison rather than the death penalty because McKenzie has ruled that he is intellectually disabled.

Williams, 20, also of Lucedale, also is charged with capital murder. Her trial is scheduled Aug. 27 in Lafayette County.