Former justice of the peace John Poynor was sentenced this week to 10 years in state prison for statutory rape and fondling, but his attorneys have already filed papers to appeal the verdict to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
Circuit Judge Andrew C. Baker sentenced Poynor, 61, to a 10-year sentence, with five years to serve and five suspended.
Poynor, who lives in Pope, also received a five-year sentence for fondling a minor last winter.
Both accusations came from the children of a former girlfriend, both of them sisters, who testified in court about Poynor’s alleged illicit actions.
A third sister had made another accusation of statutory rape, which led to a second indictment against Poynor, but Baker tossed out that charge during the girl’s court testimony.
Poynor pleaded not guilty to the charges and maintained his innocence when he testified during the trial.
Assistant District Attorney Robert Kelly prosecuted the state’s case against Poynor.
The five-year sentence for fondling will run consecutive to the five years in prison for statutory rape, meaning Poynor faces 10 total years in prison, then five years of probation, Baker explained from his chambers following the sentencing.
Baker handed down the sentencing at the Panola County Courthouse in Batesville Tuesday morning after first hearing an appeal from defense attorneys that he overturn the jury’s guilty verdict or order a new trial.
Poynor is represented by former district attorney Bobby Williams and Charleston attorney Alison Kelly. Williams’ daughter Paige, also an attorney, is assisting her father in Poynor’s defense.
Prior to the sentencing, defense attorneys had filed a Motion for Probation for their client should Baker reject their appeals for an overturned verdict or a new trial.
In court filings, the defense attorneys suggested that a jury member failed to disclose to the judge a "sour" business deal with Poynor.
Still other defense arguments centered around Poynor’s trial attorney, Jay Westfaul, whose performance during the trial was called "constitutionally ineffective" in the court papers.
Court papers said Baker should have let Westfaul introduce witnesses who would have testified the mother had concocted the accusations.
A private investigator hired by Westfaul had interviewed more than 10 witnesses, each one prepared to testify that the mother had told them she was seeking money from Poynor.
That testimony was the bedrock of Westfaul’s case and Poynor’s defense but was not allowed due to a "hearsay" ruling from Baker.
"Most of the defense was built on motive, and they wouldn’t allow it in court," said Poynor’s daughter, Tina Watkins, following the sentencing.
Watkins was among three character witnesses called by the defense to plead for leniency from Baker before he handed down the felony sentencing. The other witnesses were Betty Alexander, Poynor’s ex-wife, and family friend J.W. Beard.
Under questioning from Alison Kelly, Watkins and the other witnesses spoke little of mercy, instead pleading that Poynor was innocent of the charges against him.
"Has anybody ever made allegations against your father?" Kelly asked Watkins.
"No," said Watkins, who said she was raised by her father.
"A pedophile starts at home. It doesn’t start at 61," Watkins added.
Poynor, seated at the defense table in a dark gray suit, wiped away tears as his daughter and ex-wife described him as kindhearted and loving.
Baker allowed the veering testimony about Poynor’s innocence without objection, appearing frustrated once when Alexander said she "just don’t see how it was possible" that Poynor was guilty of the sexual crimes against the girls.
Baker was more vocal about the attorneys’ court filings, however, at one time slamming down the four-inch thick law book to show his displeasure over the defense tactics.
On the subject of Westfaul’s performance, Baker said he thought the attorney had "done a good job."
On the subject of the juror with the bad business dealings, the judge lectured the defense about the role of the jury and the selection process.
"The jury system adds integrity and honor to our justice system," Baker said, holding up the law book as he spoke. "If we can’t trust our juries, we might as well do away with the jury system."
Poynor’s age and ailments were also discussed by his family as part of the plea for probation. He suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, emphysema and poor eyesight, his daughter said.
Poynor’s defense attorneys did help their client in the sentencing phase when the assistant district attorney told Baker 30 years is the minimum sentence for statutory rape.
Alison Kelly rose to her feet, however, and responded that 30 years is the maximum, not the minimum, sentence, for statutory rape.
"Suffice it to say I don’t know what the statute is," the assistant district attorney then told Baker.
The lawyers for both sides and Baker then flipped through their law books, agreeing that 30 years is the maximum sentence allowed by law.
On the fondling charge, the sentence is no less than two years in prison and no more than 15.
Explaining the sentence from the bench, Baker said Poynor received a fair trial and, despite his health and lack of a criminal record, a crime against children deserves prison time.
"We have to protect (children) sometimes when a mother doesn’t protect them," Baker said, alluding to trial testimony that the mother of the girls moved in with Poynor despite knowledge of the girls’ accusations.
Brenda Mapes, a relative of the girls, said after the sentencing that Poynor received the punishment he deserved.
"I do have compassion and I do feel bad, but every sin has consequences," Mapes said.