OXFORD – A Lafayette County prosecutor said that “nothing’s happened” in the case involving the slaying of well-known Black, LGBTQ+ student Jimmie “Jay” Lee since the Ole Miss student charged with his murder was released on bond last year.
Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr., was scheduled for arraignment Monday at the Lafayette County Courthouse but didn’t appear. Herrington’s family has repeatedly claimed his innocence in interviews.
The new prosecutor assigned to the case, Lafayette County Assistant District Attorney Steven Jubera said he expects the next time Herrington will be in court is for trial.
“We want to make sure that justice is done and that’s all I have to say about that,” he said.
Jubera said the most recent high-profile case he tried was the murder of former Desoto County lawmaker Ashley Henley. Jubera said he didn’t want to share information with the media about a case that is being closely scrutinized.
North Mississippi communities “work on rumors,” he said, and that can prejudice a jury.
“We’re keeping it out of the limelight first and foremost,” he said of Herrington’s case.
Lee’s disappearance on July 8 last summer made national news, as did Herrington’s arrest two weeks later. At a preliminary hearing last fall, police presented evidence showing that Herrington and Lee talked frequently over SnapChat and had been in a casual sexual relationship. Early in the morning before Lee went missing, he had gone over to Herrington’s apartment twice.
At 5:56 a.m., minutes after Lee messaged that he was coming over, Herrington searched, “how long does it take to strangle someone gabby petito.”
Gabby Petito was a 22-year-old who gained national attention last summer when she went missing; it was later determined she was killed by strangulation.
More than 230 days later, police still have not found Lee’s body, which they have said is somewhere in Lafayette or Grenada counties. Members of Lee’s family and his friends have said his disappearance and death is representative of the routine violence that trans and gender non-conforming Missisisppians face.
“The big part for me is y’all (law enforcement) still haven’t found Jay Lee,” said Braylyn Johnson, a friend of Lee’s who has organized a group of fellow University of Mississippi students called “Justice for Jay Lee.”
She went to the courthouse Monday morning to see if Herrington was there and didn’t understand why he wasn’t required to make an appearance like many defendants are.
“It seems like they have a playbook somewhere, and we’re the only ones who don’t know what’s in the playbook,” she said.
In December, Herrington was granted a $250,000 bond after his attorney, Kevin Horan, who is also a Republican lawmaker, filed a petition claiming the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department was violating his constitutional rights by keeping him in jail.
Herrington’s release, which shocked Johnson and other members of Oxford’s LGBTQ+ community, came a few days after the former prosecutor assigned to the case, Tiffany Kilpatrick, had been elected Lafayette County’s first-ever county court judge following a run-off. (Jubera also ran for the same seat.)
At the preliminary hearing last year, Kilpatrick argued the judge could find probable cause that Herrington killed Lee even without Lee’s body.
“In 2022 you do not need a body,” she said. “It’s not the 1870s.”
Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today, in partnership with Open Campus.