Bond denied for Labor Day cold case suspect indicted for murder, rape

Michael Wayne Devaughn, the suspect in the Labor Day Murders was denied bond at a live arraignment Wednesday. Devaughn faces charges of capital murder and sexual battery in the case, which was cold for 28 years before DNA evidence linked Devaughn to the crime. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)

Staff Writer

Bond was denied for 51-year-old Michael Wayne Devaughn of Rienzi, the suspect in the 1990 Starkville Labor Day Murder at a live arraignment in circuit court Wednesday.

Circuit Court Judge Lee Coleman denied bond on Devaughn’s charges of sexual battery and capital murder, following the recommendation of District Attorney Scott Colom. However, the proceedings were handled in a live arraignment due to the charge, as required by law.

Devaughn pleaded not guilty to both counts. His previous bond was $10 million for the capital murder charge and $1 million for the sexual battery.

Mark Williamson, Devaughn’s court-appointed public defender, asked for bond to be set on the charge, due to the amount of time between the crime and Devaughn’s arrest in October 2018.

Colom said he hoped to move forward with the trial as quickly as he could, but said the timeliness of the next step would depend on whether Devaughn chose to keep Williamson as his attorney or hire new counsel.

“Mr. Williamson now is an appointed counsel,” Colom said. “At this point (Devaughn) has not been able to afford a lawyer. The court had to appoint him a lawyer. He may get the funds to hire a counsel. He has the right to get a counsel of his choice if he can afford one. Once that decision’s made, we can push the case further along.”

Colom also said the death penalty was a possibility for the capital murder charge. However, he said it would largely be contingent on discussions with the victims whether he chose to seek the capital punishment option or not.

“Ultimately it’s my decision, but obviously I’m going to listen to their concerns and what approach they want to take,” Colom said. “People have strong opinions about the death penalty, but I’m going to go through the process, but if we get to the point where that decision is going to be made, I’ll announce that, and we’ll go forward from there.”

Devaughn is accused of murdering Betty Jones by slitting her throat with a knife, and sexually assaulting Kathryn Crigler in the 300 block of Lee Street, now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive on Labor Day 1990. The case was cold for 28 years, before DNA evidence from Devaughn’s cigarette butt matched with DNA found at the crime scene. Devaughn was out on bond for an unrelated felony possession of methamphetamine charge in Tishomingo County when he was arrested in connection with the murders.


Jimmy McCarter, 34, pleaded guilty to the charge of burglary of a church.

Judge Coleman sentenced him to 14 years in prison with seven suspended, and to pay $1,188 in restitution to Aldersgate United Methodist Church for the damage he did during the break in. Authorities were able to recover 97 percent of the items stolen.

On Jan. 28, 2018 members of Aldersgate United Methodist Church came to their church and found it had been broken into, with doors open, footprints and a cup shattered in the church office. After review of security footage, McCarter was recognized from previous encounters and apprehended.

Joe Thomas Whitehead, 21, will serve five years for possession of contraband in a jail, after a tattoo gun was found in his cell during a search on Feb. 14, 2018. The five years will be served concurrently with a two-year sentence for felony taking of a motor vehicle. Whitehead was in the non-adjudicated probation program, but was sent to jail on the felony taking of a motor vehicle charge. He holds three prior burglary of a building charges. While transferring the evidence, Oktibbeha County Jail Administrator Shawn Word was injured by the device and had to seek treatment at OCH Regional Medical Center.

Leevester Ellis, 49, was sentenced to five years in prison on the charges of burglary of a shed and burglary of a dwelling. The two years for the first charge and five for the second will be served concurrently, and Ellis will pay $800 in restitution on the first charge and $561 in restitution on the second. On the first charge, Ellis was caught on security footage stealing a lawn mower, miter saw, router and bicycle from a shed on the property of Ethan Lantz on Jan. 23, 2018.

On the second charge, Ellis broke into a home on Creekline Road in Oktibbeha County on July 11, 2018, stole a bottle of Gatorade and made himself a plate of food. After a 911 call from the homeowner, Ellis was apprehended at the scene. The state allowed the sentences to be served concurrently due to Ellis’ history of mental and physical health issues.