By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Thomas James Ward of Saltillo isn’t guilty and isn’t acquitted in the 2010 death of Anna Catherine McCoy, a deadlocked jury’s no-decision Friday means.
“This case isn’t over,” said Judge James L. Roberts Jr., just before he ended the nine-day trial and deliberations.
Ward, 25, seated at the table with his attorney, Victor Fleitas, turned around and whispered to his wife, Stephanie, “Are you OK?” She nodded her head, yes, with her eyes filled with tears.
Ward’s mother and sister also wept across the aisle from a weeping Allison McCoy, Anna McCoy’s mother, who sat next to the dead girl’s father, retired Tupelo policeman Cotton McCoy.
Announcement of no unanimous verdict on any of three possible outcomes came after more than 12 hours of work in the jury room Thursday and Friday. During jury deliberations, loud arguing could be heard from the large room in the Lee County Justice Center.
District Attorney Trent Kelly, who inherited the case from a previous administration, did not answer a Daily Journal question about what happens now.
Fleitas declined to comment because he faces the possibility of going back to trial with the case. Ward remains in custody because his bond was revoked a few weeks ago after he reportedly led law officers on a high-speed chase through Saltillo.
When that charge will be addressed isn’t known yet either.
This nightmare for two families and a host of friends began April 15, 2010, at Ward’s father’s home in Saltillo, where he resided. About 10 p.m., as Ward and McCoy were in his small bedroom, his new .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun discharged and the bullet entered McCoy’s face close to the right corner of her mouth as she reclined on the bed. It shot through her skull and exited at the left top of her head.
Authorities said she was dead almost instantly.
Seconds later, a horrified Ward and his father each called 911 to summon help. Ward told the police that the gun discharged as McCoy tried to hand it to him, reaching across her body as she lounged on the bed.
The state contended such a thing could not happen, that Ward’s extreme recklessness contributed heavily to the 20-year-old Itawamba Community College soccer player’s death.
The 12-member jury – seven men and five women – considered three choices: depraved heart murder with a mandatory life-sentence, the lesser manslaughter by culpable negligence with its maximum 20-year sentence and his acquittal.
About 1:32 p.m., the foreperson agreed when Roberts asked if the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. She also indicated no decision was reached on any of the choices.
At the heart of the decision was whether the jury believed this was a tragic accident, which the defense repeatedly contended, or that Ward recklessly caused McCoy’s death.