JACKSON – A federal jury took less than an hour Thursday to convict a former teacher and basketball coach of kidnapping a 6-year-old relative to pressure the girl’s mother in a dispute over a piece of land and a portable storage shed in east Mississippi.
Jesse Mae Brown Pollard showed little emotion when she was convicted in U.S. District Court in Jackson on all three counts — conspiracy, kidnapping and obstruction. She faces 20 years to life in prison at sentencing, set for Feb. 18.
The child was taken from East Kemper Elementary School in the Kemper County community of Scooba on April 30 and dropped off unharmed in the rain near a stranger’s mobile home the next day. By that time, authorities say they were closing in on her abductors.
Two rolls of tape and a 20-foot-long dog leash cable were found in the rental car used in the abduction and Pollard was prepared to use them on the girl, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Dowdy said Thursday.
Pollard’s son, Devonta Pollard, a basketball player on a scholarship at the University of Alabama before being charged in the case, was among those who testified that his mother was behind the plot. He said he didn’t know his mother and other relatives were involved until after the child was taken.
Federal prosecutors recommended deferred prosecution for Devonta Pollard, meaning the charge will be dismissed if the 19-year-old stays out of trouble for two years.
Five others, most of them related to each other, Pollard and the victim, pleaded guilty Nov. 6 and await sentencing. They include a school secretary charged with telling Jesse Pollard where to find the child that day: in the school library.
“It’s a relief,” Roshell Ford, the child’s mother, said after the verdict. “She had plans of tying my baby to a chair, leaving her duct-taped in a hotel room.”
Ford said the child still asks if those “bad people” are coming back to get her.
“Not now,” Ford said with a wide smile.
Jesse Pollard’s attorneys had no comment after the hearing. They had wanted to use an insanity defense in the case, but U.S. District Judge William Barbour wouldn’t allow it. Prosecutors had said a mental evaluation found that Jesse Pollard was not insane at the time of the kidnapping. The lawyers said she was under pressure from events in her life and out of control of her own actions.
Defense attorney Abby Brumley asked the jury during closing arguments Thursday morning to recall testimony about Pollard’s bizarre behavior and ask themselves if she knew what she was doing at the time of the abduction.
Devonta Pollard had testified that he heard his mother talking to herself about the land and the girl in the days before the abduction. And Brumley said Pollard made no attempt to conceal her identity when renting a car and hotel room used during the alleged crime. She also seemed calm and fell asleep while in custody not long after learning she was the suspect in the case, Brumley said.
“You must ask yourself if she in fact knew what she was doing,” Brumley told the jury.
Dowdy, the prosecutor, countered that Pollard planned the abduction, and even told another suspect in the case that she wanted to use the girl “as leverage” in the property dispute.
“This woman was calculating. She was manipulative. She was a bully,” Dowdy said.
Authorities say Ford, Jesse Pollard’s cousin, bought a piece of land that Jesse Pollard had lost to foreclosure at one time, and Pollard wanted it back. Pollard even hired someone who stole a portable storage shed off the property just days before the kidnapping, Dowdy said.
The defense called no witnesses, and though Jesse Pollard had indicated she would testify, she decided not to.
Investigators say the child was taken from the school to a hotel in Bessemer, Ala., then moved to a hotel in Laurel, Miss. She was dropped off near Enterprise, Miss., and told her mother was in a nearby mobile home and she should run up to it.
Dowdy, the prosecutor, said after the verdict that the quick work of the FBI, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and Kemper County Sheriff’s Department in tracking down the suspects ensured that the girl made it home safely.