By Errol Castens
OXFORD – Three suspects were charged Thursday with capital murder in the death of a Gulfport man attending the University of Mississippi.
Zacharias McClendon’s body was discovered Wednesday morning after Lafayette County sheriff’s deputies were called to check on him at his home on County Road 140, also known as Levee Road, near the College Hill community.
Suspects charged in the homicide include Steven Matthew Wilbanks, 22, of Burnsville, N.C.; Derick Richard Boone, 23, of Laurel; and Joseph Bryant Lyons, 20, of Houston, Texas. All three lived near the victim.
Lafayette County Sheriff’s Investigator Alan Wilburn said McClendon’s body had a single gunshot wound, adding that investigators believe robbery motivated the killing.
The commission of an additional felony in connection with a homicide qualifies it as capital murder. Suspects convicted of such a homicide may be sentenced to either life without parole or the death penalty.
Bonds had not been set on Thursday, Wilburn said. It is common in capital murder cases for bond to be denied altogether.
McClendon was in his first semester of the two-year MBA degree program at Ole Miss.
“The University family is shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Zach McClendon,” said Ole Miss Dean of Students Sparky Reardon. “We feel pain and loss any time one of our students is taken from us. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends, and we, as a University family, will do all that we can to support them.”
Two of the three suspects were Ole Miss students this semester. Wilbanks was majoring in French, while Boone was a banking and finance major.
Lyons’ Facebook profile identified him as having previously studied theater, philosophy and religion at Ole Miss, but officials did not confirm his major and said he was not a current student.
While it was not clear when McClendon had died, Wilburn said it did not appear to have been an extended time between his death and discovery of his body. An autopsy was performed in Jackson.
Wilburn expressed his department’s appreciation for assistance in the case from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations, the Oxford Police Department and members of the public. The case remains under investigation.