Headlines – 5/24/2005

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – May 24, 2005

  From the 5/24/05 issue of The Panolian :             

Shaffer appointed as new superintendent
By Rupert Howell

Dr. James Keith Shaffer has been selected to serve as superintendent of the South Panola School District following an extensive search to find a replacement for the retiring Dr. C.L. Stevenson.

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School trustees voted to hire Shaffer Thursday night following several days of interviews with six finalists who had applied for the job.

The formal announcement was made Sunday at commencement exercises for South Panola’s Class of 2005 at Tad Smith Coliseum at the University of Mississippi.

Shaffer is former Superintendent of Education for the Coahoma County School District, an elected position, and has also served as Director of Curriculum while serving as assistant superintendent of that district.

He has also served as school principal and teacher, which, along with his experience as superintendent, separated him from other applicants, according to South Panola School Board President Lygunnah Bean.

"His primary focus will be on curriculum and academics from the highest (grade) level all the way down.

"We feel that his past background as a teacher and superintendent in various school systems will help him facilitate our schools’ reaching a level five (level five is the highest academic ranking for a Mississippi schools)," Bean said.

Shaffer is single and owns a home east of town near Highway 6. He has been employed by the district for the past two school years and is a member of First Baptist Church in Batesville.

He holds doctor of education, education specialist, master of education and bachelor of science in education degrees from Delta State University. He attended a Baptist school grades K-9 and Clarksdale High School.

Shaffer said he is excited about his new position and made note that Batesville and the South Panola School District is the place he "chose to live."

Shaffer did not seek reelection following his first term as Coahoma County Superintendent of Education, and came to work in the South Panola District as personnel director.

He has taught off campus at Delta Community College and is currently on the faculty of Delta State University where he teaches in the area of curriculum and instruction at the Coahoma County Higher Education Center.

Shaffer describes himself as a "hands-on person who leads by example. I set the standard then expect others to step up to the plate."

Shaffer will be working closely with Stevenson until he assumes his new title July 1 when Stevenson’s retirement becomes official.

The school board hired an outside firm to assist in the search which included background searches and narrowing down the list of applicants.

School board members narrowed the list to six finalists who all underwent interviews with both school board members and members of the community. Finalists were also given a tour of the community including school facilities by volunteer Belinda Morris.

The original time table called for the new superintendent to be named by June 27, but trustees made the decision after the final interview Thursday night.

Judy Sumner unseats incumbent Como mayor
By Jason C. Mattox

Challenger Judy Sumner has apparently defeated incumbent Como Mayor Azria "Bobby" Lewers in the May 17 run-off election according to unofficial election results.

Sumner won by four votes, (302-298), the same margin she held following the first primary.

Reached by phone by The Panolian, Sumner said she is very happy with the results.

"The people of Como have spoken and they wanted a change," Sumner said.

"I am going in there with new eyes," she said. "I understand that I have not been an alderman, so I need to learn what the city has going on.
"I want to do the best job I possibly can for the people of Como," Sumner added and said she already has some plans for her first term in office.

"We have some problems with our gas and water lines," she said. "The city needs to look at those and come up with a solution."

Sumner said she will also work to recruit industry to Como.

"We have been growing for a few years now, but there is still room," she said. "I want to go out and find an industry that is looking for the kind of home Como can offer it."

Sumner said she is concerned about the youth of the community and plans to look at possible activities.

"There is nothing for the children in the community to do after school or during the summer months," she said. "The city needs to look at what programs can be offered for our youth."

Lewers could not be reached for comment.

In the only other race during the run-off election Ward Three incumbent Ruby Johnson-Higgenbottom defeated challenger Josephine Cleveland 88-78.

The only contested race for Como on the June 7 ballot will be for the alderman-at-large seat when Democratic candidate John H. Walton faces independent opponent Dr. Forrester Ruhl.

Circuit jury acquits David McClarty of murder
By Billy Davis

A Panola County circuit jury found David McClarty not guilty Friday of murdering his mother’s boyfriend.

The jury announced the verdict at 3:20 p.m., apparently believing McClarty’s claim that he acted in self defense when he shot and killed Kenny Belvin with a Ruger .22 caliber revolver.

After the jury was dismissed, McClarty’s family members and Belvin’s family members exchanged cross words in the courthouse hallway.

Sheriff’s deputies separated the families, later escorting McClarty and his family from the courthouse.

The slaying occurred in May of 2004 at 1211 Sardis Lake Drive, and McClarty was indicted last November.

McClarty’s mother, Lynn Jenkins, was set to testify for the defense Friday morning but did not. McClarty’s attorneys put him on the witness stand instead.

The jury of eight women and four men reached its verdict after approximately two hours of deliberation at the county courthouse in Batesville.

Circuit Clerk Joe Reid announced the verdict, which had been passed from the jury foreman to Judge Ann Lamar on yellow legal paper.

In the courtroom, the two families sat across from each other as the jury filed into its seats.

When the verdict was read, some of Belvin’s family members sobbed loudly and dabbed at tears with tissue.

Members of McClarty’s family seemed startled at the decision, jumping back as Reid read the verdict.

McClarty showed no emotion when the verdict was read.

Assistant District Attorney Robert Kelly prosecuted the case against McClarty, who was represented by Joey Langston of Booneville and Zach Scruggs of Oxford.

Kelly and Langston wrapped up the trial with closing arguments late Friday morning.

The trial began Monday with a 225-person jury pool. It was delayed by two days because Judge Lamar was sick.

After the trial, McClarty and his family, and their attorneys gathered in the courthouse law library, where they celebrated McClarty’s acquittal with hugs and high-fives.

Outside the library, Langston said he and Scruggs decided to keep McClarty’s mother off the stand in order to limit the state’s rebuttal witnesses.

The state’s witnesses "could have clouded what we considered to be a very clear case," Langston said.

Langston credited Scruggs for suggesting that McClarty testify, and also for preparing the defendant for his testimony.

"David’s story has been self defense all along, and we knew that once he explained that to the jury, and once the jury heard his side of the case – which is really the only side of the case – that they would find (him) not guilty by self defense," Scruggs said.

Remains may be missing woman
By Billy Davis

The Panola County Sheriff’s Department announced Monday evening that they may have found partial remains of a missing Memphis woman in Panola County.

Panola County Sheriff’s Department investigator Mark Whitten confirmed Monday afternoon that skeletal remains were found on Barnacre Road in north Panola County.

Melissa Ferris, 27, has admitted to investigators that she dumped the body of Corie Duckett, 22, in a rural area near Interstate 55 in March.

Whitten said the location is about 1.5 to two miles west of Hwy. 51 North.

Panola County Chief Deputy Craig Sheley was in Florida yesterday, where he accompanied Memphis police in a planned interview with Ferris.

Sheley had announced his plans Friday, saying he would accompany Memphis authorities to the Jacksonville jail where Ferris is being held.
That interview proved successful, news reports have suggested, leading investigators to the site.

Whitten said he and investigator Barry Thompson discovered the remains.

Duckett has been missing since March 17. She and Ferris were both dancers at a Memphis strip club.

The search for Duckett’s body began two weeks ago after Ferris admitted to Florida authorities that she and boyfriend Jeffrey Opp dumped the body near the interstate.

Ferris allegedly shot and killed Opp on a Florida interstate as police officers negotiated their surrender.

Ferris later drew a map of the body’s location, but law enforcement officers were unsuccessful in matching the description with the location, Sheley has said.




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