James Willie-former inmate

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Alleged killer got early release from Parchman

By Billy Davis

The call Matt Anderson was waiting for came in the dark, at 3:45 in the morning Friday, May 18, from Panola County Sheriff Dennis Darby.

“Sheriff Darby called me and said, ‘We got the guy.’ He said the gun was in his possession,” recalled Anderson, son-in-law of Nebraska resident Thomas Schlender, who died in Panola County on May 8.
Last Friday, a small army of law enforcement officials assembled behind Tunica Sheriff K.C. Hamp in Tunica County to announce felony charges against James Willie, 28.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Willie is facing a capital murder charge for the May 11 murder of Lori Anne Carswell of Hernando, the sheriff said.

Sheriff Hamp went on to describe information that was already trickling out: Willie was first arrested in Tunica May 15 after police responded to a disturbance call at an apartment on Old Highway 61.
A woman had phoned police and said she’d been raped, and Hamp said Willie would be charged with rape, kidnapping and aggravated assault for that alleged crime.

The victim was not named.

Authorities said Willie had discharged a 9mm Ruger during an argument with the woman but it’s not clear why authorities decided to send the firearm to the Mississippi Crime Lab for a ballistics test.
Willie was arrested last Tuesday and the ballistics test came back Thursday with a positive match, Sheriff Hamp told reporters.

The Tunica sheriff said 148 man hours had been spent on the investigation — “a lot of late nights and early mornings,” he said.

At the press conference, Hamp was asked why the gun, which was owned by Willie’s unnamed girlfriend, was compared to the two roadside murders. Both Schlender and Carswell had died from 9mm bullets fired from the same weapon.

“Because it was the right thing to do. A lot of training,” the sheriff said without elaborating.

The Tunica sheriff did elaborate about a motive, alleging Willie had robbed Schlender and Carswell to purchase drugs.

Hamp said Willie had not confessed to the murders but said the suspect had said enough for investigators to charge him.

 “We have a lot of information linking (Willie) to the crimes,” Hamp told reporters.  
Press reports Monday said Willie had made a court appearance in Tunica where his bond was set at $1 million.

Willie’s arrest amounted to a badly needed lucky break for law enforcement.

Eight days had passed since Schlender was found shot and killed at 1:40 a.m. at the Pope-Courtland exit.There were no witnesses to the murder and it was not clear if Schlender was a victim of road rage or robbery or just a random shooting.

Several days had passed before robbery was cited as a possible motive, when family members noted that Schlender was carrying several hundred dollars for his trip to Florida.

Four days later, Carswell was found shot to death outside her automobile. A warning from the Miss. Bureau of Investigation — that the killer could be posing as a law enforcement officer, the bureau director said — put an already-worried public on high alert.

Meanwhile, Anderson and other family members were burying a beloved grandfather of 12 while Anderson kept in touch with Darby and other law enforcement officials from his home in Nebraska.

Sheriff Darby announced Friday at the press conference that Willie had not been charged in Schendler’s death because investigators are still collecting evidence. When he is charged, he will likely face a second capital murder charge for the violent offense.

District Attorney John Champion, who was present at the press conference, told reporters it’s too soon to know if the state will seek the death penalty against Willie.

Authorities have reported Willie is from Sardis, with an address on Ballentine Road, though TV news reporters from Memphis have also been knocking on doors in Courtland where his relatives live.
Willie was convicted of burglarizing a home in Panola County in 2002 according to court documents.
He had served two years in prison by 2004 when he was released on probation. But he violated his probation by threatening to kill a Miss. Department of Corrections parole officer and went back to prison in 2005.

Willie was undergoing counseling sessions when he confided in a counselor that he had hatched a plan to kill his probation officers, said Mark Allen, a former parole officer who quit two years ago.

Willie was angry that he had failed two drug tests administered by parole officers, which would have threatened his parole status, Allen told The Panolian last Friday.
To seek revenge, Willie told the counselor he planned to shoot the parole officers with a deer rifle from the press box at Tiger Stadium.

“He had it all planned out, even where he was going to park,” Allen said. “It was a detailed description about how he was going to take us out.”

Allen said he considered Willie’s description a personal threat even though court testimony later showed he was singling out David McKee, a second parole officer who was overseeing Willie’s case.  McKee is still employed with the state agency.

Court documents show Willie was sent back to prison because of the threat, the failed drug test, and misdemeanor traffic violations in Batesville in 2004 for reckless driving and no drivers license.

While Willie’s release date was set for 2013, he was released in April 2010 after qualifying for the “30 for 30” trusty program according to an MDOC spokesman.

“I wouldn’t find that surprising if he didn’t serve all his time,” John Champion, the district attorney, told The Panolian after the press conference. “That’s an entirely different topic altogether.”