April 10, 2019 10:43:13 AM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
Columbus resident Jaylen Barker received a life sentence in the Mississippi Department of Corrections Tuesday after pleading guilty to a murder in Starkville two years ago.
Barker, 22, was charged with capital murder in the November 2016 shooting death of Mississippi State University student Joseph Tillman. Barker pleaded guilty Tuesday morning in Lowndes County Circuit Court.
As a capital murder defendant, Barker was eligible for the death penalty, and District Attorney Scott Colom said his office was "absolutely" prepared to pursue it if the case went to trial.
"Mr. Barker got in front of the court and the judge asked very clearly, 'Did you kill Joseph Tillman,' and (Barker) said 'Yes, I did,'" Colom said. "He was under oath when he said that. There's no longer any mystery as to who killed Joseph Tillman.
"Somebody stated under oath that they did it knowing they were going to have to spend at least the next 43 years in prison, if not the rest of their lives," Colom continued. "That's why we were willing to offer life."
Barker's attorney, Sanford Knott of Jackson, did not immediately return calls from The Dispatch.
Barker was scheduled to go to trial in early May. The case had been moved to Union County.
Assistant District Attorney Scott Rogillio said Barker and two other suspects robbed Tillman of his wallet after asking for change for $100 in November 2016. Tillman chased and confronted the group and was shot to death.
Tillman was 21. He was a senior marketing major from Schlater.
During Tuesday's press conference, Collier Tillman, Joseph's father, said he was thankful for the work of law enforcement and the district attorney's office in pursuing the case. He also thanked the university and community for support after Joseph's death.
"We lost a lot when we lost Joseph," he said. "He was full of life and love and had a lot more to give. We and many others will always feel that loss, but can rest in the assurance that justice has been served."
Colom added he thought it was important to remember the victims in crimes such as the Tillman case.
"Too often on these cases, the focus and attention is just on the defendant and we forget that not only has an innocent person been taken from this earth, but that person has been taken from their family," Colom said.
The cases for Barker's co-defendants, Syboris Pippins and Brandon Sherrod, who are charged with capital murder and accessory after the fact, respectively, are still pending. While Colom said he could not comment on their cases, he hoped Barker's plea would help to resolve them.
Colom said Barker will be eligible for early release in 2062. He said that decision would have to go through a judge.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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