Trial for suspect in roadside shootings continued

Court NewsThe Associated Press

SARDIS, Miss. (AP) — The capital murder trial of James D. Willie, 29, accused of killing two people along North Mississippi highways last year, has been continued until next year.

The Commercial Appeal reports Willie was set to stand trial Monday in Panola County for the May 8 shooting death of Thomas K. Schlender.

Schlender, of Raymond, Neb., was found shot to death inside his pickup, which was in the median of southbound Interstate 55 near the Pope, Miss., exit in Panola County. Schlender was traveling from his Nebraska home to Florida to pick up his grandson from college.

During a pretrial conference Thursday in Sardis, Circuit Court Judge Jimmy McClure approved the defense attorneys’ motion for a continuance after they said they needed more time to prepare for the death penalty case.

Dist. Atty. John Champion, whose 17th district includes DeSoto and Panola counties, told the court that the state had no objection to pushing back the trial.

The judge told attorneys that a status hearing would be held in January on the case, and a trial date would be set at that time.

During the pretrial hearing, Willie rejected a plea offer of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The plea deal was offered by prosecutors.

Willie is represented by three court-appointed attorneys — Panola County public defenders Walker and Tommy Defer, and William LaBarre, who works with the Mississippi Public Defender’s office Capital Defense Counsel in Jackson, Miss.

The Capital Defense group is assigned to all capital murder cases in the state.

The defendant also faces capital murder charges in the shooting death of Lori Anne Carswell.

Carswell, 48, was found lying in the road near her 1997 Pontiac Grand Am on the shoulder of Miss. 713 near Interstate 69 in Tunica County. Carswell, who worked at Fitzgerald’s Casino, was on her way home from work. She had been shot once in the head.

Carswell’s death occurred in Tunica County and will be tried separately.

Click video to hear audio