Judge Melvin Priester, Sr. reduced the bond for Lauren Shell Blackwell to $500 for the charge of Capital Murder in the death of 81 year-old Lee Kendrick at a preliminary hearing last Monday. The Pearl resident was shot to death in an a vacant apartment at Cedarstone Apartments in Northeast Jackson on August 31. Blackwell was denied bond when first charged with murder and auto theft. Judge Priester also granted bond of $500 for the auto theft charge. He sought to release her on her own recognizance but awarded a bond upon a request from defense attorneys. JJ obtained a copy of the hearing transcript. The transcript gives a clearer picture of what did... and didn't take place in the courtroom that day.
|Kendrick. Source: Legacy.com|
The tipster knew Kendrick and Blackwell as she rented a room to her for two weeks but Kendrick paid for the room. The landlord terminated the rental when other men came to the room. She told "Babe" Blackwell that she wouldn't tolerate that type of behavior and refunded the money to her. Kendrick also bought a vehicle for Blackwell but she got mad about the purchase. She apparently wanted $2,500 instead of the wheels so she later sold the vehicle.
Blackwell turned herself into police after her picture was distributed to the media. Detective Thomas said:
He picked her up and took her to a hotel room at the Crown Motel, got her a room. He left her there to go to Clinton to pick up $1,600 from a client for a fence that he was supposed to be building. He came back and picked her up from the room.
When he picked her up, he told her he had to go home and feed his wife because he normally fed his wife around 11:00 (His wife suffers from Alzheimer's and dementia.). So he took her to Shorty's Food Mart and got her some chicken, and then took her over to Eastview and dropped her off.
Mr. Kendrick came back. When he came back to Eastview and picked her up, he picked her and Walter Young up, and they were supposed to go to Woodside. At first Loren stated that she and Walter Young dropped him off at Woodside....
Loren then stated they went to an apartment...
She said they went to the apartment and the female was supposed to meet them over there. And once they got inside the apartment, the female never showed.....
Remember Blackwell stating she never had sex with Kendrick that day and stayed in the front room? Detective Thomas stated that they had sex in that room was found, complete with Blackwell's DNA. Blackwell also said that Young was the cousin of her boyfriend, Shadarrine Lindsey.
Detective Thomas said Blackwell "said they didn't take the money ($1,600). She said Young toook Kendrick's pants and threw them into a dumpster by hwy 80. The couple then picked up Lindsey and went to the Jubilee store to buy weed.
She drove to Franklin County in Kendrick's car and was stopped for a speeding ticket in that county. She hid the car in Franklin County as well. Detective Thomas stated "she ended up with the vehicle." She also said that Trustmark bank video showed Kendrick withdrew $120. She said "So we know for sure that he had $1,720 on him."
The police recovered none of Kendrick's $1,720:
Q: Did you find any of this at or near his body?
Q: Did you find any of it at all?
Q:Were you able to recover the gun?
A: No. We went back. We took Ms. Blackwell. She went to show us exactly where she threw the gun out. We went and looked and canvassed the area and we were not able to find a gun. She said if the gun was missing, Walter had to be the one to come back and remove the gun from that area.
She also said that Young at first knew about Kendrick's murder then denied knowledge of the crime (p12). He said he wasn't with Blackwell when she got the ticket and that Lindsey and Blackwell were "trying to frame him for murder."
The police also did not have the medical examiner's report at the time of the hearing. Detective
Public Defender Lynn Watkins represented Blackwell. She moved to dismiss the murder charge against Blackwell. She argued there was "no evidence that she pulled the trigger at any time to kill Lee Kendrick." She also requested house arrest for Blackwell if the charges were not dismissed. She said Blackwell is 28 weeks pregnant and the baby is "in a breach position". She claimed her client was also developing "gestational diabetes" and that Hinds County taxpayers will have to foot the bill for her care and delivery if she is in jail. She said she can stay with her boyfriend's mother.
Prosecutor Walter Bleck told Judge Priester that the only person police can prove was in the room is Blackwell. He said he was shot in the head. Her "DNA is there." He also said she was the one who was placing other people in the room and "she got away with the car."
Judge Priester said what mattered was the police stated "At this time we do not have any evidence that she pulled the trigger." Judge Priester then said "I see no evidence that she was the murderer".
Judge Priester said he was going to release Blackwell on her own recognizance but Watkins objectetd. She asked for a bond so that the police could not just simply arrest her if she was indicted. The prosecution would have to file a motion to revoke or reconsider her bond if she was indicted. Thus Judge Priester made it harder for the police to take Blackwell into custody if she is indeed indicted for capital murder.
Blackwell will be on house arrest once she posts bond.
Kingfish note: That was the news, now for the opinion. It appears that both Judge Melvin Priester, Sr. and prosecutor Walter Bleck never heard of the felony-murder rule nor can Judge Priester distinguish between a trial and a preliminary hearing. Mississippi Code Section 97-3-19 (e) states:
(2) The killing of a human being without the authority of law by any means or in any manner shall be capital murder in the following cases...The evidence presented shows that Kendrick had $1,720 when he picked up Blackwell. Blackwell knew he had the money and it is a safe bet Walter Young knew that little fact as well. Priester and Bleck passed the bar exam so they should have knowledge of the felony-murder rule. Mr. Bleck did not once try to use the felony-murder rule to oppose reducing the bond or releasing Blackwell. One would expect the prosecutor to use all legal arguments necessary to keep a Judge from releasing an accused murderer back into society.
e) When done with or without any design to effect death, by any person engaged in the commission of the crime of rape, burglary, kidnapping, arson, robbery, sexual battery, unnatural intercourse with any child under the age of twelve (12), or nonconsensual unnatural intercourse with mankind, or in any attempt to commit such felonies;
The felony-murder rule states that Blackwell is guilty of murder if she helped Young rob Kendrick and Kendrick was killed during the commission of the robbery. Kendrick had the money when he met the pair and it was never recovered. It is more than reasonable to suspect that Walter Young robbed Kendrick. It is also reasonable to suspect that Blackwell told Young about Kendrick's money and worked with him to lure Kendrick to the apartment where they could rob him.
The police are still investigating the case. The case has yet to go to a grand jury yet Judge Priester decided to try the case right there at the preliminary hearing. Judge Priester expected the police to disclose all of their evidence to the defense before the case was presented to the grand jury. Judge Priester focused solely on whether Blackwell pulled the trigger and ignored any applications of the felony-murder rule. He didn't ask any questions about a robbery or what happened to Kendrick's money. It was all about Blackwell pulling the trigger. Judge Priester knows about felony-murder rule so his refusal to discuss it can't be classified as sheer ignorance or inexperience. His statements and rulings were a determined attempt to try the case before it went to a grand jury and put her back on the street.
One also only speculate as to why the Bleck did not raise the issue of the felony-murder rule. There is also a question of did she help him as an accessory after the fact or if she obstructed justice by throwing away the murder weapon. However, no such arguments were raised. Such is the performance we have come to expect from the office of the Hinds County District Attorney.