|By Billy Davis
The case against accused murderer Johnny Green is heading to a Panola County grand jury following a preliminary hearing this week.
In a 40-minute hearing that played out more like a circuit trial, Green’s bond was set at $1 million by Justice Court Judge James Appleton.
Green, 59, is accused of killing Ricky Taylor II early in the morning of July 23 after picking up the 33-year-old at his home east of Sardis.
Taylor, who was shot twice, was found dead on Old Panola Road.
Green’s attorney, Tony Farese, had requested a $30,000 bond for his client.
Before Appleton ruled on the bond amount, Farese grilled the hearing’s sole witness, Panola Chief Deputy Craig Sheley, for about 25 minutes.
Farese hammered away at Sheley about Green’s jailhouse interviews, using the hearing to build both a self-defense case and a conspiracy case over numerous objections from Assistant District Attorney Robert Kelly.
The county courthouse in Sardis was the beginning of the state’s case against Green, a Sardis bail bondsman whose future is in the hands of Farese, a well-regarded, high profile defense lawyer from Ashland. He practices criminal law with his brother, Steve.
The hearing took place between various justice court cases, which meant a sprinkling of lawyers and ticketed citizens were present for the hearing.
Members of the Green and Taylor families were also present.
In front of the assembled audience, the defense attorney and assistant DA debated Farese’s cross-examination of the chief deputy. At one point in the hearing, both lawyers read aloud state statutes, arguing over the purpose and scope of a preliminary hearing.
Regarding a self-defense motive, Farese asked Sheley about Taylor’s history as a meth user and whether lab results revealed narcotics in his system.
The lab results are pending following work by the crime lab, Sheley said.
Kelly objected to the questioning about Taylor, but Farese explained to Appleton that the use of drugs could have made Taylor the "aggressor" while he was in the vehicle with Green.
"They just can’t take a part of a preliminary hearing so they can ask the court to consider just what they want the court to consider," Farese told Appleton.
In further questioning by Farese, this time on the subject of a possible conspiracy, Sheley disclosed that Green had named a suspected drug dealer, Ricky Nelson, in Taylor’s murder during an interview.
Taylor had once been a confidential informant on Nelson, Sheley testified, acknowledging in part what Taylor’s mother, Barbara Taylor, had previously told a reporter about her son’s past.
The mother said last week, however, that she believes her son was killed over bail money owed to Green.
Nelson is under indictment on drug charges, court testimony revealed, and Taylor was facing a drug-related indictment in DeSoto County.
With that information made public by Sheley, Farese asked the chief deputy if Nelson then had a "motive to harm" Taylor.
Kelly objected to the questioning.
"Mr. Nelson is not charged with killing Mr. Taylor," the assistant district attorney said.
Responding to Kelly, Farese told Appleton that Taylor’s role as "the only state witness" against Nelson pointed toward a "pretty strong motive" for murder.
"Maybe Mr. Nelson should be charged with shooting Mr. Taylor, and that’s what I’m trying to establish," the defense attorney said.
"Mr. Nelson is not charged, so I stand by the objection," Appleton replied from the bench.
Sheley also said, however, that he had investigated Nelson and his alibi for the alleged early-morning killing.
Sheley also testified that Green contradicted himself in three separate interview sessions, at first saying he didn’t know anything about the slaying but later insisting that Taylor had "made a move" and Green shot first, an obvious claim of self-defense.
In the third interview, Sheley said, Green said he took Taylor to Nelson, who then shot him.
"The investigation (about Nelson) was not revealing the facts Mr. Green was saying," Sheley told Farese.
Sheley also testified that a bullet taken from Taylor’s body was a .40 caliber round, the same type used in a Smith and Wesson pistol owned by Green.
The investigation over Taylor’s murder is still ongoing, the chief deputy stressed during his cross-examination.