Suspect charged in deaths of Mississippi family members

Timothy Lydell Burns, center, leaves the Copiah County Justice Court building in Hazlehurst on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Timothy Lydell Burns, center, leaves the Copiah County Justice Court building in Hazlehurst on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

By Jeff Amy

Associated Press

HAZLEHURST – A man suspected in the slaying of three family members from Mississippi was charged Wednesday with arson and two counts of murder.

Authorities found the family’s wrecked and burned vehicle Saturday in a remote area southwest of Jackson. After questioning Timothy Lydell Burns, he led them to the bodies of 7-year-old Jaidon Hill, 30-year-old Atira Hughes-Smith and 34-year-old Laterry Smith, authorities said. They were in an abandoned house about a mile from the vehicle.

Hill was Hughes-Smith’s son. Family members said Hughes-Smith had recently married Smith. All three victims had gunshot wounds.

Burns, 42, was ordered held without bond by Copiah Justice Court Judge Lillie McKenzie, who appointed attorney M.A. Bass to represent Burns. Bass could not immediately be reached for comment, and Burns did not respond to questions from reporters after his appearance.

Burns appeared at the hearing in shackles and wearing a bulletproof vest. He answered the judge’s questions in a voice barely audible to courtroom spectators.

A third murder charge will likely be brought in neighboring Hinds County. Authorities believe Laterry Smith, the boy’s stepfather, was killed in that county in a house on a busy south Jackson street, said Warren Strain, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.

Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith did not return calls seeking comment.

Strain said authorities believe Burns abducted the mother and son and took them to Copiah County. The district attorney there, Alexander Martin, said it was still too early to discuss the case.

It also remains unclear whether the victims were in the vehicle when it crashed. Copiah County Sheriff Harold Jones has said he believes Burns was driving at the time of the wreck and then tried to burn the vehicle.

Strain said investigators continue to gather evidence. The autopsies are complete but reports are still being compiled, he said. Authorities still won’t say how Burns was connected to the three or what motive he had to kill any of them.

“We have theories, but the investigation will ferret out the facts,” Strain said.

Records show Burns was convicted in 1992 and 2008 in Hinds County for cocaine possession. In 2008, he was also convicted for vehicle theft and grand larceny in Claiborne County.

On Monday, police recovered items linked to the family in a trash bin at a gas station in south Jackson, including clothing and Hughes-Smith’s work identification card from the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Strain wouldn’t say how investigators determined Burns was a suspect. Authorities began watching him at a south Jackson motel Monday and arrested him around 11:30 that night when he went to a gas station.

Strain said Burns was questioned at MBI headquarters in Jackson and he took authorities to the bodies before dawn Tuesday.