Sheldon Timothy Herrington, Jr., the Ole Miss graduate charged with murdering Jimmie “Jay” Lee, was released on a $250,000 bond Thursday after his lawyer made an agreement with the Lafayette County District Attorney’s Office.
The agreement – made without a hearing – shocked the LGBTQ+ community in Oxford who thought Herrington would stay in jail through the remainder of the court proceedings with a grand jury hearing pending early next year because he was originally denied bond.
Justice for Jay Lee, a group of students and friends of Lee’s, condemned Herrington’s release in an Instagram post and called on several public officials in Oxford – including the mayor and the chancellor of University of Mississippi – to speak out “during the scariest time in our community.”
“They kept his possible release a secret out of fear of us protesting and advocating for Jay Lee,” the post, written in all-caps, reads. “Our biggest nightmare just came true. We warned them this would happen. Our officials should have advocated for the courts to not release Timothy.”
Herrington was arrested two weeks after Lee went missing on July 8. Police later determined that he had a sexual relationship with Lee and that his apartment was the last place Lee went. That night, a few minutes after Lee messaged that he was coming over, Herrington Googled “how long does it take to strangle someone gabby petito,” then “does pre workout boost testosterone.”
In August, a Lafayette County Circuit Court judge denied Herrington bond on the grounds that he is a flight risk because he searched for flights from Dallas to Singapore the day before Lee went missing.
But in the agreement signed Thursday, Herrington was permitted to post bond if he agreed to wear and pay for an ankle monitor and surrender his passport to the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department. Kilpatrick agreed these conditions would “satisfactorily relieve any fears” that Herrington would flee the state before trial, according to the order.
Earlier this week, Kilpatrick was elected the first County Court Judge in Lafayette County history following a runoff.
Herrington’s attorney, state Rep. Kevin Horan, did not respond to a request for comment before press time; neither did a member of Herrington’s family. Ben Creekmore, the Lafayette County District Attorney, could not be reached but Action 5 News reported that he said the agreement was made in exchange for Horan dropping a petition he filed in October that claimed Herrington was being held in jail illegally.
Lee’s body has been missing since he disappeared on July 8. He was last seen leaving Molly Barr Trails, a student apartment complex in Oxford, but police believe his body is somewhere between Lafayette or Grenada counties based on Herrington’s movements that day.
According to evidence at the preliminary hearing in August, Lee had gone to Herrington’s house early in the morning on July 8, left and returned a few hours later. Later that day, Herrington drove a moving truck to his parents’ house outside of Grenada where he was seen on video footage retrieving a shovel and long handled wheelbarrow.
For members of the LGBTQ+ community across the state, Lee’s murder is emblematic of the disproportionate violence that LGBTQ+ people in Mississippi face as well as law enforcement’s routine failure to properly investigate or prosecute these cases. In Lee’s case, members of the community say that failure is evident in Herrington’s surprise release and because police have yet to find Lee’s body.
Justice for Jay Lee has been urging people to write letters on behalf of Lee to the Lafayette County Courthouse as dozens of people in Grenada, including powerful officials like the sheriff and superintendent, had advocated for Herrington’s release.
Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today, in partnership with Open Campus.