Art shines a light on people of color lost to AIDS in the South
By Molly Minta | OXFORD — The Oxford Mississippi Police Department released a statement Friday afternoon that the murder of Jimmie “Jay” Lee, a well-known black student in the city’s LGBTQ community, is an “isolated incident” that does not does not reflect a broader threat to gay people in Mississippi.
The statement comes three days after a Lafayette County judge determined there was probable cause for police to arrest 22-year-old Ole Miss graduate Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr. for the murder of Lee, and that he should be held without bail.
“Based on the information gathered to date, our investigators believe this crime represents an isolated incident resulting from the relationship between Jay Lee and Tim Herrington,” the statement said.
Members of Oxford’s LGBTQ community have been asking police for more information about the nature of the case since Herrington’s arrest three weeks ago. Many members said more transparency from the police would help them make decisions about how to stay safe.
Police nodded to that prospect in the statement: “More generally, we want to emphasize that our agencies are committed to doing everything we can to maintain a safe environment for all members of our community.”
Members of the LBGTQ community are more likely to experience physical violence from domestic and intimate partners. This is especially true for black gay men who face compounded discrimination due to homophobia and racism – a common threat of violence that is personal and systemic, with roots far deeper than any case.
The post also follows a Mississippi Today story published earlier this week based on testimonies from 11 University of Mississippi LGBTQ students, faculty and alumni who said they no longer felt safe at Oxford. At least one member of the community is afraid to leave their home, said Jaime Harker, director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies at UM and owner of Violet Valley, a feminist bookstore near Oxford.
Harker said she felt OPD’s silence contributed to heartbreaking rumors in the community about the nature and reason for Lee’s murder.
“I think people fill the void with what their biggest fears are,” she said.
Lee, 20, was a well-known member of Oxford’s LBGTQ community who performed regularly at Code Pink, a local drag night. An outgoing and confident person, Lee ran for homecoming king last year to promote a platform of “loving yourself and living your truth.” He spoke repeatedly about the harassment he suffered for wearing women’s clothing.
For many in the community, Lee’s outspokenness made his disappearance all the more terrifying.
Lindsey Trinh, a journalism student at Ole Miss, told Mississippi Today that after weeks of not receiving any information about Lee’s murder, she decided she was too scared and anxious to return to class in person. . She wrote an email to the provost of the university and her professors explaining how Lee’s case had affected her.
“At the time and due to ignorance of why this happened to Jay and where his body is, I decided I could not physically return to Oxford for my final semester. this fall,” Trinh wrote in her email. “I fear for my safety and well-being as an outspoken and proud gay man of color.”
Authorities believe Lee’s body, still missing, is somewhere in Lafayette or Grenada County. But the circumstantial evidence police have gathered so far was enough to bring charges, Lafayette County Assistant District Attorney Tiffany Kilpatrick said in court on Tuesday.
“In 2022 you don’t need a body,” Kilpatrick said. “It’s not the 1870s.”
During the preliminary hearing, Kilpatrick alleged that Herrington’s casual relationship with Lee was unknown to his friends and family. She said that early in the morning of July 8, Herrington “lured” Lee into his apartment, strangled him, then “covered up” by driving Lee’s car to Molly Barr Trails, a student housing complex.
Herrington then picked up a box truck belonging to his moving company, Kilpatrick said, and drove it to his parents’ home in Grenada where he picked up a long-handled shovel and a wheelbarrow.
Kilpatrick argued that Herrington should have been denied bail because his charge – first-degree murder – will likely be upgraded to capital murder as police uncover more evidence; some of which are still being processed in a private crime lab. Kilpatrick also argued that Herrington was a flight risk, noting that a forensic search of his MacBook showed he had searched for flights from Dallas to Singapore.
Herrington’s defense attorney, State Representative Kevin Horan, disputed that Herrington, who has $1,910 in his bank account, could afford to flee the state. In his closing statement, Horan said the prosecution’s case amounted to “suspicion, conjecture and speculation.”
Horan called four witnesses who testified, in an attempt to secure bail for Herrington, about his character and his connection to the Granada community. Witnesses included Herrington’s mother, an elder in her church, one of her teachers and Emily Tindell, the principal of Grenada Secondary School.
Tindell said Herrington and his family had “the best character in Grenada County”.
In his closing statement, Kilpatrick said Herrington was not the same person described by his teachers and family.
“They don’t know about this other Tim Herrington, his double life,” she said. “They don’t know the Tim Herrington who lives in anonymity. This Tim Herrington, your honor, is the Tim Herrington who killed Jay Lee.
Florida native Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today. She works in partnership with Open Campus, a non-profit news organization focused on higher education. Prior to joining Mississippi Today, Molly worked for The Nation, The Appeal and Mother Jones.
The previous article was previously published by Mississippi Today and is republished with permission.
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