Parole Hearing

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The family of Mike Weaver – (from left) Rhonda Jones, Debbie Scruggs, Joyce Weaver and Wanda Prince – prepares for another trip to the Mississippi Parole Board this week to protest the release of one of the men convicted in Mike’s murder. Photo provided

‘It takes a toll,’ but Prince perseveres

By Rita Howell

On Thursday, Wanda Prince of Batesville will travel to Jackson to the office of the State of Mississippi Parole Board. It’s her tenth trip to protest parole of the convicted killers of her little brother, Mike.

She’s been making the trip over the past 15 years.

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“It takes a toll,” she said. “It never gets any easier. You have to prepare yourself.”

The meeting on Thursday is not a parole hearing, just an opportunity for Weaver to speak with a parole board member face-to-face to express her opposition to the parole of John Booker, 51. Booker has been incarcerated at the Mississippi State Penitentiary since 1981 after he was found guilty in the shooting deaths of Mike Weaver, 14, and Charleston scrap yard owner Oliss Martin, 56, during a robbery in March, 1981. This is the first time Booker has been eligible for parole.

His accomplice in the crimes, Kermit Lee Jones, has come up for parole nine times, but has remained in prison. Each time Jones has been eligible for parole, the Weaver family has been notified, and each time the family has appeared before the parole board to protest.

Prince remembers that their first trip to the parole board occurred on the 15th anniversary of Mike’s death.
Spring holiday turns tragic

On March 11, 1981, Mike Weaver was a seventh grader enjoying his spring holidays from Batesville Junior High School. Mike, 14, had caught a ride to the Charleston scrap yard owned by Orliss Martin, hoping to work with Mr. Martin for the day to earn some money to buy his mother, Joyce, a Mother’s Day present.

That day a trio of young men from Charleston came to the scrap yard to rob Martin. Both Martin and Mike Weaver were shot in the head with a .38 caliber pistol, and $440 was taken from Martin’s office.

The three suspects were arrested later that day at Booker’s home where the handgun and some of the money believed to have been taken in the robbery were recovered.

All three were eventually convicted in the crimes.  John Booker was 22 at the time and Kermit Lee Jones was 17. The third defendant, Timothy Gardner, was 14 at the time. Booker was found guilty of Martin’s murder and sentenced to death. He had pleaded guilty to Mike Weaver’s murder, and was sentenced to life in prison, thus avoiding the death penalty in the boy’s death.

Jones pleaded guilty to both murders and was sentenced to life in prison, first becoming eligible for parole after serving 15 years of his sentence.

Gardner was convicted of armed robbery and served 10 years before becoming eligible for parole. He was released from prison but subsequent convictions have put him back behind bars.

Death Penalty Overturned

John Booker, who once lived on Death Row at Parchman, had his death penalty reversed by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1998. The U.S. Supreme Court had, in 1990, reversed another Mississippi death penalty, citing unfair jury instruction. Subsequently the state Supreme Court threw out 22 death sentences.

In September, 1998, Booker, in a plea-bargain arrangement, pleaded guilty to murder of Martin and to armed robbery. He was sentenced to life in prison for the capital murder conviction and to 40 years in prison for armed robbery. He was already serving a life sentence in Mike’s murder.

Wanda Prince was notified in June that Booker is eligible for parole.

Family’s mission

Prince is vice president of clinical services over six states for Golden Living, a company which operates skilled nursing facilities, including one in Batesville. She is a nurse. She was 20 when her little brother was killed.

Her sisters Rhonda Jones and Debbie Scruggs, along with their mother Joyce, are actively involved with her in efforts to protest the paroles of Mike’s killers.

Several family members and friends will probably travel with Prince to Jackson this week.

Already in the hands of the parole board are a number of letters of protest written this summer by friends and strangers who have heard about the case.

“As a concerned citizen of Batesville and a friend of the Weavers, I am asking that John Booker not be released on parole…” one letter states.

“As a lifelong resident of Mississippi, I pray that John Earl Booker will never be released to do as he pleases,” another correspondent writes.  “Clearly, his actions have proven that he places no value on human life-except his own-and doesn’t deserve to live freely in society.”

Prince will tell the parole board–again–about her brother, the youngest of six children of Wesley and Joyce Weaver. He played the piano and sang and entertained patients at the nursing home. He would have been 44 now.

“There is no doubt that Mike would be a productive member of society and would be providing comfort and support to his aging mother…” Prince wrote to the parole board.

This week’s meeting with the parole board won’t be the last, and Prince knows it.
After she meets with the board this week, a parole hearing will be set for Booker and a decision will be made about his release.

And Kermit Jones will be eligible for parole again soon.

“All we have left to do for Michael is to fight his killer’s parole,” she said,  “and maybe help someone else” as they navigate the state’s parole system