By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Debi Freeman won’t have to look over her shoulder for a while yet.
That’s because the man who used a deer rifle in 1985 to wound her and murder her 4-year-old son, James Neal Freeman, will stay in prison at least several more years.
Anthony Jenkins was denied parole earlier this month after Freeman and others close to the case testified before the Mississippi Parole Board. Freeman received notice of the board’s decision Thursday afternoon.
“I just praised God and thanked everybody who helped me,” said Freeman, a teacher at Oxford Elementary School. “I can breathe.”
Witnesses said Jenkins, who was in the National Guard, had stolen the rifle, set up in sight of College Hill Road and shot at the next car that came within sight.
Debi Freeman recovered from the bullet that hit her in the face, but James Neal’s wounds were fatal. Freeman’s older son, Robert, and a friend sat in the back seat and were not physically injured.
Because one juror voted against the death penalty, Jenkins could be sentenced only to life in prison. Mississippi law did not then provide for a sentence of life without possibility of parole, so he became eligible for parole review after 25 percent of his expected life plus 25 percent of 25 additional years for other crimes – aggravated assault, burglary and grand larceny – to which Jenkins pleaded guilty.
Parole Board Chairwoman Shannon Warnock confirmed that Jenkins was turned down and that he cannot petition for another hearing until November 2014; otherwise, Warnock could not comment on the case.
Freeman, however, recalled that some Parole Board members had seemed especially moved during her testimony by the circumstances of the attack.
“Most of the Parole Board members did not know I was pregnant at the time and could very well have lost two children,” she said. Another factor, she said, was “the fact that (James Neal) was an innocent baby and the meanness that caused his death. There was no reason for it.”
Nearly 26 years after the crime ripped her family’s fabric, Freeman is grateful for the respite that comes with knowing Jenkins cannot apply for parole review again until November 2014.
“We’re planning a vacation,” she said, “and I can enjoy that – enjoy life – and not have to look over my shoulder.”
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.