NEW ALBANY, Miss. —There are 22 district attorneys handling cases in 82 Mississippi counties. Many are perceived as hard-core, heartless prosecutors.
Sometimes they have to be. They frequently witness the worst part of humanity — murder, aggravated assault, robbery and a long list of other crimes.
But for one district attorney who has prosecuted cases in the northern part of the Magnolia state since 2004, a passion for music helped shape who he is today in the courthouse.
Ben Creekmore actually grew up in New Albany, Mississippi. Not a lot has changed there over the years — but he has.
“When I was in high school, and if you knew me back then, you’d probably never believe that I’d be sitting here as the D.A.,” he said. “At the time, you wouldn’t have bet on me.”
But after seeing his uncle in action decades ago, prosecuting a child abuse case in Tupelo, Creekmore decided to take a gamble on the law.
“How he dealt with that terrible tragedy they were going through … I said, you know, that means something,” Creekmore remembered.
But that’s not the only thing that means something to Creekmore.
It was in New Albany’s First United Methodist where a youth minister taught Creekmore how to play the guitar.
He thinks his first song was an Elvis tune, he said.
Today, church is where you’ll still find him, shredding six strings in the worship band.
Interestingly, Creekmore has discovered parallels between the chords he strikes on stage and the harmony he seeks in Mississippi’s criminal justice system.
“We have a court system that I think is the best in the world,” he said, “and I have faith in that system.”
But he also knows it’s not perfect. In law, like life, he sees shades of gray, not always black and white. Perpetrators and prosecutors are all different.
“And you take that, and now you put on your suit and tie, and you head into the courtroom,” he said. “It’s like two different worlds.”
That’s why a guy who’s frequently accused of being cold and calloused is also willing to bare heart and soul in song.
“You know, everyone knows it, there are patterns in music and there are patterns in behavior, and I make mistakes playing guitar all the time,” he said. “You know, you can hit the wrong note and it just doesn’t sound right, and we do that in life too. Sometimes, we hit the wrong note.”
That’s where the prosecutor steps in, hoping to right the wrong.
“Miles Davis said, ‘It’s not a wrong note, it’s what you do after that makes it wrong or not,'” Creekmore said.
The district attorney acknowledges that a conviction is not always the end of the song.
“Even if you make a mistake, the world loves giving people second chances. It’s what you do with it that makes it melody, or makes it bad.”
Like music, he’s seen the world and the criminal justice system change. Both are different today than they were years ago.
“When I was growing up, there were a lot of songs that I loved to play that had really terrible messages — Eric Clapton, ‘Cocaine,'” he said. “Here we are in the church, lightning is going to strike.”
And it’s currently striking the criminal justice system, where Creekmore believes pop culture can frequently be the lightning rod of regret.
“I have been the D.A. since 2004 and in our communities we’ve seen, the types of substances we’ve seen on the streets, go from cocaine and marijuana to things like heroin and crystal meth. And I think pop culture plays a role in that,” he said.
Life is imitating art, and too often leading to misery.
On those days, Creekmore, like many of us, looks to melt away the madness in music.
“I think the Eagles may be the soundtrack to most of my life,” he said.
He’s a legal eagle, blending music and law, reason and rhyme, good notes with bad — a district attorney who, many times, is left to write the soundtrack of someone else’s life.
Creekmore is running unopposed in the next election this fall. After 15 years trying murder cases, he’s no longer the “New Kid In Town,” to quote an Eagles title.
And perhaps, he’s not your typical prosecutor.
Does he consider himself a better musician or a better lawyer?
“I’m just trying to do the best I can.” he said. “That’s all I can do.”