Editor’s note: This story includes graphic language.
OXFORD – Shelton Timothy Herrington Jr. – the recent Ole Miss graduate who is charged with the murder of Jimmie “Jay” Lee – appeared before a Lafayette County Circuit Court judge for the first time Wednesday. Wearing an orange jumpsuit, his hands clasped behind his back, Herrington said a few words to the judge and, in less than 10 minutes, the proceeding was over.
Friends and classmates of Herrington and Lee’s family had hoped the hearing would provide some answers to questions that have been swirling over the nearly three weeks since Lee, a Black student at University of Mississippi who is well-known in the LGBTQ community, disappeared.
At the very least, they wanted to know if Herrington, 22, would make bail. But Kevin Horan, Herrington’s attorney and a state representative, requested the bond hearing be delayed to August 9. Herrington will wait in jail until then.
The Oxford Police Department arrested Herrington on Friday, July 22, after two weeks of searching for Lee, sending shock waves through the university. Little information is publicly available about why the police arrested Herrington. Carlos Moore, Herrington’s uncle who has also been retained in the case, has said that Herrington is innocent.
Many students know both Lee and Herrington, who were involved in several of the same Black organizations on campus. That night, it seemed like students immediately took sides and started to speculate, said Braylyn Johnson, a recent graduate who lived with Lee during the pandemic.
“When they had (the police) announced on Friday that Jay was dead, they didn’t say anything, they just said they had arrested another student,” Johnson said. “That was a moment for people not to necessarily have their moment of grieving for Jay Lee – they took that as a moment to defend Tim.”
Johnson was at the courthouse on Wednesday for a protest she and other students had organized. An Instagram account called “Justice for Jay Lee!” encouraged people to come wearing bright colors, and Johnson brought hand-drawn signs and a cooler of water bottles. Two hours before the hearing, she was standing next to the lynching memorial by the courthouse, prepping her sign.
She said Lee – who was outspoken about the routine violence that trans and nonbinary people face everyday in Mississippi – would’ve organized a protest, too.
“Jay Lee would have spoken up for anyone,” she said. “‘Justice for Jay Lee?’ He would’ve done that 10 times.”
Around 12:30, three police officers walked Herrington up a sidewalk and into the side door of the courthouse.
Johnson ran up to Herrington.
“That was pretty fucking sucky of you, Tim,” she shouted.
Inside the courthouse, Herrington’s family waited on the first floor in front of the metal detector. Once the courtroom opened, three university police officers parted the crowd to let Lee’s family through. Some of Lee’s family and friends wore white shirts printed with the words “Justice for Jay.”
Lee’s parents sat in the front row, his dad’s hand on his mom’s shoulder.
The judge started the proceeding. He warned everybody to turn their cell phones off because there were “a few more people than we’re used to” in the courtroom.
After the hearing, Herrington’s family left the courtroom first. One of his family members peered through the glass door to the courthouse as Johnson and more than a dozen of Jay’s friends and classmates marched in a circle and chanted “justice for Jay.” Some protesters drove down from Memphis.
Many of Lee’s friends are part of the LGBTQ community in Oxford who have found more acceptance here than in their hometowns. One of those students is Adrian Word, a junior at Ole Miss who is from Tishomingo. He identifies with Lee.
“Jay is a gay, Black male – so I am,” Word said. “The way I look at it, that could’ve been me. That could’ve been friends, that could’ve been anyone like me.”
Johnson said she feels like the LGBTQ community is “tolerated” but that Oxford and the university could do more. In particular, she took issue with the statement that Chancellor Glenn Boyce put out on Friday night to acknowledge Herrington’s arrest.
Boyce wrote that “as investigators continue to search for Jay, we continue to keep Jay’s family and friends in our thoughts and prayers during this time of immense grief.” He included links to several web pages for mental health services on campus, adding “in light of this latest development, I encourage you to lean on and support one another.”
Johnson said she thought Boyce should’ve said more.
“Chancellor Boyce, his remarks are just so – nothing, you know?” Johnson said. “Like a student was fucking murdered. And you know, you think he would want to say more. He said more about us winning a national baseball championship.”
The LGBTQ community faces disproportionate violence and harassment in Mississippi – a systemic issue that’s also deeply personal. Lee’s killing, Johnson said, directly affects everybody in the community.
“It’s not just that somebody has died, like an entire community is scared,” Johnson continued. “Like I want to say this is my last friend in the LGBT community that’s gonna face violence at the hands of somebody else … but it’s not.”
Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today, in partnership with Open Campus.