BATESVILLE, Miss. — James Willie has been found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 74-year-old Thomas Schlender.
Schlender was shot and killed along I-55 near Pope, Miss two years ago.
Also shot and killed was Lori Ann Carswell, a Fitgerald’s Casino employee, whose car was found along MS Hwy 713.
A mistrial was declared in the Carswell case.
Willie took the stand today and swore he was not the shooter in this case.
Prosecutors say Willie was a known crack addict who was arrested when a woman said he raped her then shot at her.
When police later searched Willie’s car, they found a gun which later matched up to both murders.
Josh Davis took the murder of his grandfather along a Panola County highway very hard.
“I was close to my grandpa. He was my best friend growing up and since he’s passed, I’ve been crying a lot.”
After two days of testimony, sometimes left more questions than answers, jurors ruled Willie shot and killed the Nebraska grandfather in cold blood.
District Attorney John Champion said, “He saw him and he saw the gun and the first thought Mr. Schlender had was to run. Mr. Schlender tried to get away.”
Willie took a big risk in taking the witness stand in his own defense, and in his testimony he alluded to other crimes, but not to Schlender’s murder.
Willie’s attorney never missed an opportunity to poke holes in the prosecution’s case.
“The state presented no eyewitnesses, no confession was played, no fingerprints or DNA connecting Mr. Walker to the crime,” said defense attorney David Walker.
After the guilty verdict, Schlender’s family got to address Willie directly
“James Willie, your selfish act took something you had no right to take,” said Matt Anderson, Schlender’s son-in-law.
Willie insisted on his innocence even after the verdict.
“If you think I’m responsible for Mr. Schelnder’s death, you are wrong,” he said.
Circuit Judge Jimmy McClure sentenced Willie to life, but wanted to give him more.
“With this sentence the state of Mississippi will let you out around the age of 65 and hopefully you won’t do this again,” he said.
With that, the Schlender family took modest comfort in closure.
“Relief. Just that it’s over and we can move on,” said his daughter, Tracy Anderson.
Willie was immediately taken from the courtroom. He and his attorney said they will appeal this sentence.