Family seeks justice after burn victim dies and suspect is released

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(Memphis) – The pictures are shocking.

Her ear was almost completely burned off.

Sandra Ladd suffered thru unimaginable injuries the last months of her life.

“We began to find out she had inhaled fire”, says  Sandra’s sister Sharon Panis.

She says Sandra’s boyfriend and the father of her two children, James Stafford, is responsible.

They were separated when Sandra went to visit him in Batesville July 4, 2011.

“He began hitting her. He tied her up in a  chair,” says Panis.
“He grabbed the gasoline can and she screamed. He poured it on her and said to her see if you stay as pretty. He poured the gasoline on her and set her on fire.”

Sandra put out the flames, but had to wait until James Stafford was asleep, to escape.

“She says I just said to myself, God help me. God help me. God help me,” says Panis.
“She grabbed the knife and stabbed him 2 or 3 times.”

Sandra ended up in the hospital.

Chelsea is her daughter. “The only thing I thought of it was all my fault.  If I could have done this, maybe she would have lived.” says Chelsea.

But on November 11, 2011  Sandra, her lungs scorched from the burns, died.

“I questioned why they had not come up to speak with her or anyone about what had happened,” says Panis.

James Stafford was set  free.
He now lives in Sledge, Mississippi and says he is innocent.
He told us he had nothing to do with the burning.
“I did not.  She did get burned up. Some of her friends came to see her and did this to her, her gang friends,” says Stafford.

He claims Sandra’s gang friends came to the house in masks and attacked her.

“The took her and set her on fire, poured gasoline on her and set her on fire,” says Stafford.

We asked Stafford what he was doing as Sandra was attacked.

“There was nothing I could do. They were holding guns on me,” says Stafford.

He says Sandra wouldn’t let him call police because she had been taking meth.

He says ‘he’ is the victim too, showing us  where Sandra stabbed him .

James admits he and Sandra had a history of violence
But he says he’s not guilty of ‘this’ crime.
He showed us a copy of a  Sheriff Department’s statement  Sandra gave after the attack. It doesn’t say James Stafford set the fire.

“She says he got mad and started hitting her and someone set her on fire,” says Stafford as he read from the investigative report.

Sandra’s family says before she died Sandra did name James as her attacker and even filled out a police report.

“Our  understanding, the Grand Jury says there was enough evidence to go to trial. How is it the Cleveland, MS District Attorney says she’s not here to defend herself so this is as far as it goes?” says Panis.

District Attorney Brenda Mitchell, hung up on us when we asked about the  case.
She then emailed that the  records  are exempt from the Public Records Act and won’t be released.

The  County Prosecutor refuses to talk and the Quitman County Sheriff says we  can’t see any of the case files.

The one document we could get, was a October 9, 2012 judge’s ruling that since James Stafford had been in jail for more than a year and no action had been taken by a Grand Jury,  the charges against him are dismissed

“The State of Mississippi has done a huge injustice especially for her children,” says Panis.

Sandra Ladd’s family isn’t giving up.
A section of the order for Stafford’s   release also says if additional evidence develops linking him to Sandra’s death, the State is free to pursue new charges.

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