Headlines – 2/25/2005

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 25, 2005

Panolian Headlines: February 25, 2005

  From the 2/25/05 issue of The Panolian :             


Searchers find missing woman
Team trained days before
By Billy Davis

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Just days after training for such an event, a search and rescue team found a missing Batesville woman minutes after beginning a ground search.

Panola County Search and Rescue located a 76-year-old woman Tuesday night after a 20-minute search of woods near Pine Lodge Road.

The woman, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, had driven her car there, gotten out, and wandered off, said Chief Deputy Craig Sheley with the Panola County Sheriff’s Department.

Sheley would not release the name of the woman for privacy reasons.

Last weekend, search and rescue members trained with a DeSoto County unit at the Pecan Grove, which is located behind Batesville Intermediate School, as well as other locations around the county.

Three days later, searchers put their practice to work after a sheriff’s deputy located the woman’s abandoned vehicle in a pasture.

The deputy found the car only after OnStar activated the car horn, the chief deputy said.

"OnStar gave us the location, but even then it was hard to find," Sheley said. "It was off the road and stuck in the pasture."

With the car located, Miss. Highway Patrolman Dennis Darby and his canine searched approximately 30 minutes for the missing woman but were unsuccessful.

Search teams then fanned out, locating the missing woman at the edge of the woods, Sheley said.

The woman was unharmed, he said.

Sheley said Sheriff David Bryan re-organized the all-volunteer search and rescue unit last July. An earlier unit had failed to get off the ground, he said.

Twenty-three people make up team, which includes ground searchers and divers, Sheley said.

Effort to name Readiness Center begins
L.M. ‘Kay’ Goforth was unit’s first full-time employee
By Jason C. Mattox

The Batesville unit of the Mississippi National Guard is putting forth a collective effort to keep the memory of one of its founding fathers alive.

Sgt. First Class John Ard said he and other members of the guard are working to have the newly constructed Readiness Center on Keating Road renamed in honor of Sgt. Maj. L.M. "Kay" Goforth.

"At this point in time this effort is in the preliminary stages," he said.

First the city and county must adopt a resolution of support, then letters of community support must be presented to a committee.

"Any time something like this goes up, it has to go to a commemorative committee in Jackson," he said. "They have the final approval on this matter.

"We just want the community to know that there is something being done to honor the memory of Kay Goforth," Ard added. "We wanted to do something that could honor everything he has meant to the guard."

If the committee votes to allow the naming of the Readiness Center, a plaque or statuette will be placed in the facility.

"All funds for the plaque or statuette must come from private donations," Ard said.

Ard said one of the biggest reasons for this project is because of Goforth’s dedication to the Batesville National Guard unit.

"Kay Goforth was the first full-time National Guardsman in the City of Batesville," he said. "He is responsible for building the guard in south Panola county into what it is today."

Ard said he and several other guardsmen felt like Goforth was one of the most even-tempered individuals they ever met.

"I think I saw Kay mad a total of three times since I was old enough to start going up to the armory with my dad," he said. "This man was a soldier’s soldier, and I owe my military career to him.

"A lot of the military values I have now, I have because of Kay Goforth, and I want to thank him for that," he said. "In a lot of ways, he was like a second father to me."

Ard said while there have been many full-time guardsmen in Batesville since Goforth’s retirement in 1987, there has never been one that could take his place.

"I honestly don’t believe there will be a soldier that can ever take Kay Goforth’s place," he said. "He was a good man that would do anything for anybody, and nobody will ever fill his shoes.

"He had so much wisdom about him," Ard said. "He was anxious to pass that on, and he always treated every soldier he came across with the same level of respect."

Ard said he realizes that most of the old armories and the new Readiness Centers are named for generals, but he feels like Goforth is just as deserving of the honor.

"Kay Goforth may be the best enlisted man to ever come through Batesville," he said. "I feel like his military record during his 32 years of service speaks for itself, and I am confident this effort will be a successful one."

During Goforth’s 32- year career, he took part in several conflicts including one that shaped Mississippi’s future.

Goforth and other members of the Batesville unit were called to duty during 1962 to help restore order on the Ole Miss campus during the admission of James Meredeth, the school’s first black student.

"Kay always handled everything with a high level of professionalism," Ard said. "I have no doubt that this event was handled the same way."

Pop Stars
     Whitney Pegues enjoys her role in South Panola High School’s American Pop musical, to be presented Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Batesville Junior High auditorium. A cast of 50 students has been rehearsing since January under the direction of SPHS choral instructor Pam Stafford.
Document Preservation
     Ralph Smith works beneath the soft glow of lamp light at the county courthouse in Sardis, where he’s recording Panola County chancery records onto microfilm for the Geneological Society of Utah. Smith and his wife have been at work here since July. The records are also being put into a book, which is available at the county’s two courthouses, Mrs. Smith said.
Morris cause of death ruled drowning
‘Manner of death’ under investigation
By Billy Davis

Results from a state pathologist’s report show that 18-year-old Emmanuel Morris died of a freshwater drowning in a roadside ditch.

Stranded motorists found Morris dead in the ditch February 9 near Curtis Road. He had been missing since mid-January.

Panola County medical examiner Gracie Grant Gulledge informed Morris’ family of the cause of death Wednesday, she said, adding that the "manner of death" – how the 18-year-old died – is still under investigation.

"We’re still investigating whether this was an accident, a homicide, or something else," Gulledge said. "This is not a closed case."

The ditch where Morris drowned contained three to four feet of water, said Chief Deputy Craig Sheley with the Panola County Sheriff’s Department.

Gulledge said she is awaiting final lab results, including a toxicology report.

Results from a DNA analysis on the body are also pending, she said, though a family member has identified Morris through autopsy photos and personal belongings.

The medical examiner called the DNA testing a "safety measure" to ensure "there won’t be any doubt in anybody’s mind."

Morris is the son of the late Edward Morris, a restaurant owner, and Arbie Jo Buckley, who is awaiting sentencing for the 2001 death of husband George House.

Morris last worked at Framed Picture Enterprises in Batesville. He had completed the South Panola School district’s alternative school program, where he earned a GED and a scholarship to Northwest Community College.

Buckley pleads guilty to manslaughter charge
Sentencing is Monday in Sardis
By Billy Davis

Four years and two months after setting husband George House on fire in their trailer’s living room, Arbie Jo Buckley has pleaded guilty to the crime.

Buckley, 42, pleaded guilty to a charge of manslaughter at the Panola County Courthouse in Batesville Wednesday morning, February 23.

A jury pool would have reported Monday for the scheduled trial.

Circuit Judge Andrew C. Baker, who presided over the hearing, told Buckley the manslaughter plea brings a maximum 20 years in state prison.

A sentencing hearing for Buckley will be Monday morning at 8:30 at the county courthouse in Sardis.
Regarding the plea agreement, District Attorney John Champion of Hernando said he conferred with House’s family members about the plea agreement, explaining to them that a jury could have found Buckley guilty of manslaughter.

"The family wanted to get this thing over with, and we wanted to try to do what was right," Champion told The Panolian.

Champion has now prosecuted Buckley’s case twice, first in 2002 and again this summer when a grand jury indicted Buckley in July.

A Panola County jury convicted Buckley in 2002, but that conviction was reversed by the state Supreme Court.

Buckley’s plea brings to a close a long-running case that began on October 27, 2001 when she went to the Panola County Sheriff’s Department and demanded that deputies remove George House from their home.

Court documents report deputies refused to help, saying they had no legal right to do so, and about two hours later – according to Champion – the trailer at 4817 Old Panola Road was engulfed in flames.

House later died at The Med in Memphis, succumbing to second and third degree burns.

Buckley maintained her innocence throughout the investigation, saying she had arrived at the home to find the trailer ablaze and her husband asleep.

Court documents also note Buckley claimed House had been cooking a hamburger while drunk, catching the trailer on fire at the stove.

"Every time he get drunk he go to cooking," Buckley said, according to a sheriff’s department transcript.

In an interview with Chief Deputy Craig Sheley, Buckley admitted buying a gallon of kerosene at Bull Market in Batesville. During the trailer fire, she said, George House spilled the flammable liquid on himself, thinking it was water.

The 2002 jury found Buckley guilty of capital murder, meaning she committed a felony – arson – while committing murder.

On appeal, however, the state Supreme Court agreed that Buckley should have faced only one charge – murder – in Circuit Court and not a charge of arson.

The attorney who appealed Buckley’s case is Leon Johnson of Grenada, who was present with his client Wednesday morning.

Asked by Baker to describe any credible evidence against his client, Johnson cited Buckley’s letter writing as possibly incriminating evidence.

Buckley’s court file – now two volumes thick – includes letters written from prison, including a 2004 letter to Circuit Judge Ann Lamar.

In that letter, Buckley wrote that it’s "not my fault" if House could not "stop, drop and roll" when he was on fire.

Buckley has been treated numerous times for mental illness at the Miss. State Hospital in Whitfield, Baker noted in court, explaining that her mental health was key to the court hearing.

"I understand you’re on medication," Baker told the defendant.

"No," she replied, telling Baker moments later, "I’m completely cured."



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