John Alexander

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Innocent of murder, man seeks justice for jail time

By John Howell Sr.
A new twist in the legal saga spawned by a murder over 20 years ago unfolded last month in a Sardis courtroom.

Circuit Judge Jimmy McClure ordered a 1987 murder charge against John Randall Alexander dismissed with prejudice. Alexander had been sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder following a trial in Panola County Circuit Court in 1989.

Alexander was charged with the July 15, 1987, death of Neil White whose lifeless body was found alongside Highway 51 near the Yalobusha County line. White was killed when someone ran over him with a car while he walked beside the highway in the pre-dawn darkness of that summer day. The district attorney successfully convinced jurors that it was Alexander.

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Then-Panola County Sheriff the late David Bryan worked hard to make the case against Alexander, Alexander recalls. Then, after his conviction, “He was so good to me, he treated me like his own son.”

Though a state prisoner, Alexander remained in Panola County as a trusty. His carpentry and painting skills were put to use in county-owned buildings. He became a familiar figure in both courthouses.

But Alexander was adamant about his innocence and appealed to the State Supreme Court. In June, 1992, he lost. The justices affirmed Alexander’s conviction. Alexander remained adamant.

Over the next two years, Alexander, working from the Panola County Jail and from Parchman where he was eventually remanded, contacted prosecution witnesses whom he felt had lied in their testimony against him.

In 1994, he filed with the Supreme Court a Petition for Post Conviction Relief. The Supreme Court allowed Alexander to file the petition with the trial court, which brought the proceedings back to Panola County.

Then-Circuit Judge George C. Carlson heard the petition and in June, 1995, issued an order granting Alexander’s petition. He cited one witness’s affidavit that “she committed perjury at the murder trial,” and ordered the conviction and sentence set aside, clearing the way for a new trial.

Alexander was not retried. The case languished until last year when Alexander convinced Oxford attorney Ray Garrett to take interest, Alexander said. Garrett filed the Motion to Dismiss Cause that came before Judge McClure last month.

McClure’s order noted, “… the state having conceded that due to the death of one or more of the State’s potential witnesses, the prosecution can not go forward and accordingly made no objection.”

A few days later, on March 29, Garrett filed suit against the State of Mississippi on Alexander’s behalf “for his wrongful conviction and incarceration,” under a 2009 state law “’providing for claims for wrongful conviction and imprisonment,’” the complaint states.

The state has 30 days to reply.

“I just want to get my life back,” Alexander said. He said he’d like to find carpentry work, painting and construction jobs like those — both before and after incarceration — that built his reputation for quality craftsmanship.

Meanwhile, on April 29, another chapter of the long legal saga of John Alexander may unfold.