February 9, 2019 9:56:41 PM
The last three suspects arrested for their involvement in a fatal shooting of a disabled man nearly eight years ago have pleaded guilty and been sentenced -- with one suspect who attorneys said helped get the others convicted free from custody.
Cortez Williams, 34, Michael Ross, 39, and Omar Beard, 35, were all arrested in 2011 for the murder of 35-year-old Eddie Bankhead. Each was indicted for capital murder.
On Friday, Williams -- identified as the shooter who killed Bankhead -- pleaded guilty to depraved heart murder and was sentenced to 20 years in the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
Ross pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years in the Mississippi Department of Corrections, with 15 years suspended, on Friday. He was given credit for the five years he spent in Lowndes County Adult Detention Center and released from custody.
Ross' attorney, Donna Smith of Columbus, said Ross testified three times in the trial of a fourth suspect, Derrick Bankhead, the victim's cousin, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in August. Smith said Ross' cooperation was what led to Derrick Bankhead's guilty verdict and the other suspects' guilty pleas.
"They most likely would have never gotten the other three convicted had (Ross) not gotten to testify," she said, adding that Ross told her he plans to "go to work and stay at work" now that he is free.
"He was elated obviously," she said. "He's been in jail or prison, one of the two ... for eight years."
District Attorney Scott Colom agreed with Smith, pointing out that Ross had not been armed and hadn't entered Eddie Bankhead's house.
"Basically, he was just the driver," he said. "... He took responsibility for his involvement, cooperated, and as a result of that, he got the least amount of punishment."
Ross will serve five years post-release supervision. He also had two drug charges dismissed as a condition of the plea, according to circuit court documents.
The last suspect, Beard, also pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years in MDOC on Tuesday. He will be eligible for parole in 10 years, according to a press release from the state Attorney General's Office.
While Colom's office handled Ross' case, the AG's Office handled those of Williams, Beard and Derrick Bankhead.
Eddie Bankhead was shot and killed during a home invasion and robbery in July 2011. The victim was confined to a wheelchair, which prosecutors argued Derrick Bankhead took advantage of when plotting the robbery. The AGO's press release called him the "mastermind," with Williams as the shooter and Beard as an armed participant in the robbery.
"Killing another person is as evil as it gets, but when the victim is disabled and defenseless, there is an entirely different element of evil in that," Attorney General Jim Hood said in a released statement. "I hope Eddie Bankhead's family finds peace in knowing these criminals are locked up. I thank Judge (Lee) Coleman (who presided over the cases) for making that happen."
Colom said he was happy the case is finally over after more than seven years.
"For the family, for it to finally be over, I'm just excited for them," he said.
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