JACKSON – A former University of Alabama basketball player might have avoided prosecution in the kidnapping of a 6-year-old Mississippi girl if his mother had pleaded guilty in the case, a federal prosecutor said Monday.
Jesse Mae Brown Pollard and her son, Devonta Pollard, are charged with conspiring to kidnap the girl from an east Mississippi elementary school. The girl was abducted, but not harmed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Dowdy disclosed the plea offer in court Monday after a jury was selected for Jesse Pollard’s trial. Dowdy said the government considered a deferred prosecution for Devonta Pollard if his mother would plead guilty.
U.S. District Judge William Barbour said the deferred prosecution would have meant that the government would have dismissed the indictment against Devonta Pollard if he stayed out of trouble for two years.
Jesse Pollard said she didn’t consider that a valid offer, because it would help her son, but she would still face 20 years in prison under the deal.
“That agreement was for Devonta Pollard, not me. … It wasn’t anything that was going to help me,” Pollard, a former teacher and basketball coach, told the judge.
The child was taken from East Kemper Elementary School in the Kemper County community of Scooba on April 30 and dropped off unharmed near a stranger’s mobile home on a rural Mississippi road the next day.
Defense attorney Tom Turner told the jury that Jesse Pollard was under pressure from events in her life and didn’t know what she was doing at the time of the abduction.
“She was completely out of control of her own actions,” he said.
Trial was scheduled to begin Monday for both Pollards, but Devonta Pollard’s trial was severed from his mother’s and delayed until a later date, Dowdy said.
Devonta Pollard is now listed as a government witness in the case against his mother.
Devonta Pollard’s lawyer, Lisa Ross, said Monday that she and prosecutors are trying to resolve the case against him. She had no other comment. He has maintained his innocence.
Pollard was rated a five-star prospect when he signed with Alabama in 2012, but he withdrew in June after being arrested in the kidnapping case.
Authorities say Jesse Pollard planned the abduction to pressure her cousin, the child’s mother, in a dispute over land.
Dowdy said during opening statements that the child’s mother, Roshell Ford, bought a piece of foreclosed land that once belonged to Jesse Pollard. Jesse Pollard wanted the land back and a portable shed that was on it, Dowdy said.
Dowdy also said Jesse Pollard hired someone to take the shed, and Ford reported that to police.
Ford wept while testifying on Monday how she feared her child had been raped and killed.
Jesse Pollard is expected to testify during the trial, which could last all week.
Five people, most of them related to each other and Pollard, pleaded guilty in the case Nov. 6. They include a school secretary charged with telling Jesse Pollard where to find the child that day: in the school library.
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., the next day, after a missing-child alert had been issued, prosecutors say.
In addition to allegations of planning the abduction and enlisting the help of others, Jesse Pollard is accused of sending a text message to the child’s mother: “don’t call the police I will call you later if you call the police u won’t see her again.”
For his part, prosecutors say Devonta Pollard drove to Boligee, Ala., to pick up another conspirator when that woman’s car broke down on the way to get the child in Bessemer, Ala. The next day, prosecutors say Devonta Pollard called the same woman to tell her that his mother “had gone to take a polygraph.”