Trial Begins For Man Charged In Highway Shootings

(Tunica County, MS) The 2012 shootings along interstates 69 and 55 in North Mississippi gripped the nation, and left people like Lottie Johnson afraid to leave their homes.

“It scared me. Sure. Violence always scares me, always scares me.”

The shootings, the first along I-55 in Panola County, left a Nebraska man dead.

Days later, investigators found Fitzgerald’s casino employee Lori Anne Carswell dead along I-69.

Now, just up the street from Johnson’s home, a Tunica County jury will hear the case against James Willie in the death of Carswell.

Willie faces capital murder charges. His trial had been delayed from last August to give his defense more time.

Jury selection got underway Monday with more than 100 potential jurors undergoing hours of questioning.

With no change in venue in this case, it’s being tried in the same county where the crime happened. That has attorneys on both sides going further than normal in trying to find impartial jurors.

Prosecutors apparently will rely heavily on forensic evidence in their case, as they asked the jury pool if they knew the difference between real-life and TV crime shows like CSI.

Investigators routinely complain TV often portrays crime science as much more advanced than it really is.

Prosecutors also asked jurors if Willie’s past, which includes the nickname “South Memphis,” would concern them.

The defense reminded potential jurors the burden of proof lay with the state, and Willie isn’t required to testify.

Judge Albert Smith seated the jury by mid-afternoon.

Opening arguments should begin first thing Tuesday morning, with the trial expected to last about a week.

Willie still faces a separate trial in the Panola County shooting, currently scheduled for June.

Investigators say they were able to tie Willie to the highway murders after he was arrested for raping a woman.

Sheriff’s deputies say Willie raped the woman after she asked for help getting to the office.

Prosecutors say when the woman tried to get away, he shot at her.

Officers found the shell casing and matched them to the highway murders.

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