Pathologist says dead man’s body was moved after shooting
By Jane Clark Summers
Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
CORINTH – A pathologist and fingerprint expert provided key testimony for the prosecution in the second day of the murder trial of Buford Mask.
Mask, 49, who now lives in Henderson, Tenn., is charged with murdering Rabon Lee “Junior” Smith, 27, of Corinth. Mask claims he acted in self-defense after Smith attacked him with a knife.
Smith was shot once between the eyes at Dundees Restaurant and Lounge on U.S. 72 on Feb. 17, 1993.
A key state witness, Wardell Mattox, testified Tuesday that he heard Mask ask his son, Jerry Mask, for his knife and that he later saw the defendant press Smith’s fingers around the knife as the victim lay on the floor. Mattox’s credibility was challenged by defense attorney Joey Langston because of inconsistent prior statements.
State Crime Lab fingerprint examiner Ken Gill testified that he lifted a partial print from the knife blade and identified it as belonging to Jerry Mask. On cross-examination, Langston pointed out that Gill had issued two opposite findings. In his initial report, Gill said the fingerprint could not be identified, but later released a second report linking the print to Jerry Mask.
Gill explained that he had always believed the print to be that of Jerry Mask but had changed the report to agree with that of his supervisor, Clydell Morgan. After being subpoenaed to appear in the murder trial, Gill said he reevaluated the case along with Morgan and a third fingerprint examiner, all of whom made the same identification.
Morgan testified she may have been having a bad day when she first looked at the latent print and failed to make a match but would never sign her name to something unless she was sure. She said she stakes her professional career on each identification she makes. Morgan said she never intended for Gill to base his first report on her opinion.
Assistant District Attorney Jim Pounds called former Alcorn County Prosecutor Tom Sweat to the stand Wednesday to testify about a prior conflicting statement given by Mask during a preliminary hearing in Justice Court. Sweat said Mask alleged that Smith tried to come back at him after he was shot.
Dr. Thomas McLees, a forensic pathologist at Magnolia Regional Health Center who performed the autopsy on Smith, testified he went to the scene of the shooting and noticed the body was in an unusual position. He said he also questioned how a knife with an open blade could be lying in the open left palm of the right-handed victim.
A .38-caliber bullet severed the victim’s spinal cord or brain stem, causing instant clinical death, McLees said. The wound would have prevented the victim from making any voluntary moves after he was shot, the doctor said. Had the victim been holding a knife, it would have been clenched in a death grip, McLees said.
That in addition to blood splatters on a chair next to where Smith had been squatting indicated the victim fell over the chair and was moved after he fell, McLees said. Earlier testimony by several patrons who were in Dundees at the time of the shooting indicated Jerry Mask, who was sitting in the chair next to Smith, had blood on the stomach area of his clothing.
Testimony continues in Alcorn County Circuit Court at 8:30 a.m.