Meridian Star

Local News

May 16, 2014

Suspected accomplice in shooting convicted rapist

MERIDIAN —     A minor charged with murder in the fatal Mother's Day shooting of an 87-year-old man outside a Meridian grocery store does not have an extensive criminal background, but a 36-year-old man charged with accessory after the fact in the shooting does, Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie said.

    Shon P. Byrd, 16, of Meridian, is charged with capital murder and armed robbery in the Sunday afternoon shooting death of H.L. "Billy" Putnam, 87.

    Byrd is accused of shooting Putnam three times in broad daylight outside Vowell's Market Place on North Hills Street and robbing him of his wallet and credit card.

    Putnam, a U.S. Veteran who served in WW II, had just finished shopping and gotten in his car when he was fatally shot.

    Authorities believe that after the shooting Byrd got in a white Mercury Grand Marquis occupied by Decarlos Santez Clark, 36, and Veronica D. Ferguson, 20, both of Meridian.

    Clark and Ferguson each face charges of accessory after the fact on both the murder and armed robbery charges.

    At the time of the shooting Byrd was wearing an electronic monitoring device on his ankle, leading some residents to question the effectiveness of the device.

    "I know the public is upset he committed this crime with this bracelet on," Sollie told members of the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors at a Tuesday morning workshop.

    The offense that prompted a judge to fit Byrd with the monitoring device is not public record given that he is a minor.

    Sollie did say, however, that Byrd "had a very short" criminal history, "so his restrictions were very, very limited."

    "The ankle bracelets, depending upon the offense or previous convictions, can go from a simple curfew at 10 o' clock at night all the way up to, you can go from home to school or school to home," Sollie said. "There is a wide range of limitations the judge can place on that ankle bracelet."

    The ankle bracelet did allow authorities to track Byrd's movements on the day Putnam was killed, however.

    "We provided to the city a step by step map of where he was at that day so it is going to be hard for him to say he didn't do it," Sollie said.

    Although Byrd does not have an extensive criminal history, Clark is well known to local law enforcement officers.

    "He had a very extensive history with us," Sollie said of Clark. "He has been convicted of rape and drug convictions. He is a registered sex offender."

    A search of The Meridian Star online archives that date back to 2006 reveal the following listings for Clark in the paper's crime reports:

    • Aug. 26, 2006, resisting arrest and possession of marijuana, less than one ounce.

    • July 12, 2007, felony malicious mischief. Bond was set at $5,000.

    • July 27, 2007, simple assault, dismissed, no witness

    • Sept. 1, 2007, threatening and harassment first offense, (repeated phone calls) dismissed, no witness    

    • October 1, 2007, Failure to register as a sex offender

    • Oct. 3, 2008, Sentencing — felony malicious mischief, three years MDOC, two years 255 days suspended, 110 days to serve, fines, fees and court costs.

    There were no listings for Byrd or Ferguson in the paper's online archives.

    Byrd's preliminary hearing was held in municipal court Thursday, while both Clark and Ferguson waived their initial hearing. All three are in custody at the Lauderdale County Detention Facility.

    Byrd was denied bond on the capital murder charge and has a $1 million bond on the armed robbery charge. Clark and Ferguson each are under a $150,000 bond.

    If Byrd is convicted of capital murder in Putnam's death, he won't face the death penalty. In a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court on March 1, 2005 held in Roper v. Simmons that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments forbid the execution of those under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed.

    Allegations have surfaced that Byrd may have been a member of a gang, adding fuel to residents' fears that youth violence that has plagued the city may be gang related.

    Meridian Mayor Percy Bland has announced the launch of a new Gang Task Force Unit but has provided few details how the unit will work.

    When asked at Tuesday's meeting what he would do to address crime in the city if he could do so, Sollie said a key component would be educating officers and the public on gang activity.

    Sollie said a start would be to bring in a gang expert in to visit the community and document what is going on.

    Sollie said that during a Wednesday meeting with Meridian Police Department Assistant Chief James Sharpe the two discussed the possibility of assigning one person to maintain a database for both the city and county "where every bit of information we get on any individual is stored in a single location."

    The problem of youth crime has been exacerbated by a shortage of housing for juveniles convicted of crimes. Sollie said a lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice and the Southern Poverty Law City prompted the state to close some juvenile detention facilities, reducing the number of available beds from 350 to 50.

    "Judges in the state are in a very difficult position where they don't have enough beds to send our youth to," Sollie said.

    Authorities have long said public cooperation is the key to helping combat crime within the city. Reports have surfaced that witnesses provided police with a description of Byrd and the tag number of the car he got in, giving them information needed to arrest all three suspects.

    On Wednesday, residents in the Collinsville area helped deputies catch five suspects in a burglary on Masonic Lodge Road. In that case, a man armed with a shotgun held one of the suspects until deputies arrived while two women followed the suspects' car and called in the tag number and direction of travel.

    "People are just tired of it," Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors President Josh Todd said of recent crimes. "They are coming out and they want to help."

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