Appeals court reverses murder conviction involving MSU student


Skylar O'Kelly

Skylar O'Kelly



Alex Holloway



The Mississippi Court of Appeals has reversed a second-degree murder conviction for Skylar O'Kelly and remanded his case back to Oktibbeha County Circuit Court for resentencing on a drug charge.


O'Kelly, 25, was sentenced to concurrent terms in prison after a jury convicted him on two felony counts -- 10 years for drug trafficking and 20 years for second-degree murder. O'Kelly was charged for giving an LSD-like drug to former Mississippi State University student Parker Rodenbaugh, 22, that led to his death in 2014.


The court of appeals found that the court properly ruled in the drug trafficking count. However, the court ruled that there was not enough evidence to support either a second-degree murder -- which is also called "depraved heart murder" -- or culpable negligence manslaughter.



During his trial in circuit court, O'Kelly testified he purchased about 450 "hits" of the synthetic drug 25B-NBOMe. He gave two doses to Rodenbaugh at a residence on North Nash Street on Aug. 9. Rodenbaugh began to spasm and collapsed after taking the drug, and O'Kelly testified that a person at the apartment asked him and others to leave before calling 911.


Rodenbaugh was pronounced dead at OCH Regional Medical Center later that night.


In the decision, the court noted O'Kelly and Rodenbaugh had taken the drug previously and didn't seem to be aware of the dangers.


"There is no evidence that O'Kelly, Rodenbaugh or (O'Kelly's younger brother) Daylin had experienced any adverse effects when using NBOMe previously, and O'Kelly testified that he did not know that NBOMe was dangerous," the decision says. "Indeed, on the night in question, O'Kelly took the same number of hits as Rodenbaugh."


The court ruled that based on the evidence presented at trial, "O'Kelly's singular act of selling or giving Rodenbaugh two hits of NBOMe" was not enough to meet the qualifications for second-degree murder or culpable negligence manslaughter. The court reversed O'Kelly's conviction to acquit him of the charge.


Because of the reversal, the court also remanded O'Kelly's case back to the circuit court for a resentencing, based on the 2018 Mississippi Supreme Court decision in Sallie v. State. In that decision, the Supreme Court noted that courts are likely to fashion a sentencing package when a defendant is convicted of more than one count of a multi-count indictment.


The decision notes the circuit court could have imposed a longer sentence for the drug trafficking charge.


"... It is possible that the circuit court's original sentence for drug trafficking was influenced by the murder sentence that the court imposed the same day," the appeals court decision says.



Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.



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