The Case of Cory Maye

A cop is dead, an innocent man may be on death row, and drug warriors keep knocking down doors.

Editor's notes:

• Since the publication of this article, a judge of the Pearl River County Circuit Court has ruled that Cory Maye received incompetent legal representation during his sentencing phase, and has ordered a new sentencing hearing. As of September 21, 2006, Cory Maye has been removed from death row.

• On November 16, 2009, the Mississippi State Court of Appeals granted Maye a new trial, ruling that the trial court was wrong to turn down his request to move the trial back to Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi.

Cory Maye had settled into a chair in front of the television and was drifting off to sleep. It was around 9 p.m. on the day after Christmas, 2001, and the 21-year-old father had put his 18-month-old daughter, Tacorriana, to bed an hour earlier. Her mother—Chenteal Longino, Maye’s girlfriend—had left for her job on the night shift at the Marshall Durbin chicken plant in Hattiesburg, more than an hour away. The three shared half of a small, bright yellow duplex on Mary Street in Prentiss, Mississippi, a depressed town of 1,000 people in Jefferson Davis County, about halfway between Jackson and the Gulf Coast.

Later, in court, Maye would testify that he awoke to a violent pounding at his front door, as if someone was trying to kick it down. Frightened, he ran to his bedroom, where Tacorriana was sleeping. He retrieved the handgun he kept in a stand by the bed, loaded it, and chambered a bullet. He got down on the floor next to the bed, where he held the gun and waited in the dark next to his little girl, hoping the noises outside would subside.

They didn’t. They got worse. The commotion moved from the front of his home to the back, closer to Maye, and just outside the door to the room where he and his daughter were lying.

“Thought someone was trying to break in on me and my child,” Maye testified.

“And how were you feeling?” an attorney asked.

“Frightened,” Maye said. “Very frightened.”

One loud, last crash finally flung the rear door wide open, nearly separating it from its hinges. Seconds later, someone kicked open the bedroom door. A figure rushed up the steep, three-step entrance to the house and entered the room. Maye fired into the darkness, squeezing the trigger three times.

Maye says the next thing he remembers is hearing someone scream, “Police! Police! You just shot an officer!” He then dropped his gun, slid it away from his body, and surrendered.

One of the three bullets had found its way around Officer Ron Jones’ bulletproof vest, pierced his abdomen, and ripped through several vital organs. Jones would die of massive internal bleeding on the way to the hospital.

The police offer a different version of the night’s events. They say they announced themselves several times upon arrival and again before each attempt to kick down the doors to the apartment. At Maye’s trial, the raiding officers also testified that someone inside the home jiggled the apartment’s front blinds when they first arrived, suggesting Maye peered out the window, meaning he should have known the men invading his home were police, not criminals.

Maye insists he didn’t hear the officers announce they were police until after he’d fired his gun. Asked by his lawyer at the trial what he’d have done if he’d known the intruders were police, he replied, “I would have let them in.”

A jury rejected this account of mistaken self-defense and sentenced Maye to death for the murder of Ron Jones. But the evidence strongly suggests Maye was telling the truth. His conviction has provoked outrage not only among left-liberals concerned about racially charged Southern justice—Maye is black and Jones was white—but among conservative supporters of the right to keep and bear arms.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    excellent article, both compelling and documented, you're a credit to the field of writing.

  • Ratko||

    You said it, Steve, spot on.

    Radley's articles almost always inspire thought, and can be credited for changing some of my long held opinions and beliefs.

    One such opinion was that of our justice system, it's not perfect, but despite the fact my core system of values dictates that should one man suffer unequal treatment the system is not just, I was willing to accept it as is. It's not acceptable, with so much power in the hands of so few, and little oversight by the rarest creature of all, the authentic watchdog, there is little incentive to make it acceptable.

    Back home in Phoenix, I knew a Cory who is Black. He too shot and killed a cop in a botched bust involving illicit drugs.

    Both Corys faced similar charges, but the one I knew had a prior record and was found not guilty. It was an undercover narcotics officer his case, he was apparently making the bust without first announcing he was a law officer he attempted to draw his firearm, an action that resulted in his death.

    Phoenix Cory was unaware he was dealing with a police officer, so assumed he was being shot. His reaction was to counter draw his pistol in an attempt to fire first, he was successful.

    The mistakes made by the state didn't end there, they continued, one was withholding the name and identity of the man he had killed as a police officer until just prior to his trial.

    Ultimately his action in the shooting was deemed justifiable. Sometimes, as in this case the system works.

    Other times, as in the case of the other Cory, it's nothing more than a human being's fate being decided by the spin of a rigged wheel of misfortune.

    The 21st century and this is the best we can manage? "..a boot stamping on a human face.." How much longer until the face won't have to be our very own before we can realize the serious consequences of allowing such an action. We better wake up soon, once we pass the point of no return, our power to influence these matters has ended - forever.

  • ||

    This is absurd, self defense is a god given right, this cop crossed the line, and got what he had coming. I've got nothing against cops per-say, but when they use Nazi tactics, and lose, justice turns pervert. It's not even justice anymore, our system is so corrupt, and one sided, you are NOT presumed innocent,until you can prove it beyond doubt, any doubt. The second one sets foot in a courtroom, they're guilty, and the court is prejudice.

  • ||

    This is absurd, self defense is a god given right, this cop crossed the line, and got what he had coming. I've got nothing against cops per-say, but when they use Nazi tactics, and loose, justice turns pervert. It's not even justice anymore, our system is so corrupt, and one sided, you are NOT presumed innocent,until you can prove it beyond doubt, any doubt. The second one sets foot in a courtroom, they're guilty, and the court is prejudice.

  • ||

    A really simple solution to the problem of "he said, he said", would be to mandate by law recording devices be present during these raids. A man's life hinges upon whether the police shouted "Police!" before he started shooting at them. How simple it would have been to have a video, or even audio recording of the raid.
    The standard of proof would be statutorily pegged, that if the police did not make the recording, in violation of law, then the presumption of credibility will lie with the defendant.

  • ||

    Want to make a CHANGE in Mississippi? Take 3 minutes and sign my petition! You'll be glad you did!
    http://www.gopetition.com/online/25939.html

  • ||

    Is anyone actually surprisd by this? I mean really?

    Kelp
    www.web-privacy.se.tc

  • ||

    anyone who lives in that county knows who the informant was and that individual was a racist himself. If you seen him he would be yelling "WHITE POWER!" To me it sounds like bad info from a bad informant...plain and simple!

  • Mark||

    Burn in Hell Cory Maye, you deserve it.

  • ||

    you red neck hillbilly come up north and talk that smack i will show you just what it is like to feel the fires of hell,God remembers all..and he is coming home so put that in ur pipe and smoke it u blue eyed devil

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  • BWM||

    I like the article. It amazes me that conservatives and even alot of liberals have so much faith in police. The police are like the military; an essential part of the government, but exceedingly dangerous, and a tool to be kept under a careful eye at all times. When civilian deaths are shrugged off and police deaths mean war, the state has completely subverted it's role. They serve US, after all.

  • ||

    The Drug Police are running wild in this country & must be stopped. Thank the Lord & thank the judge-why is he unnamed?

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  • ||

    It's so sad in the day & age that's things like this still happen.
    Thank you for bringing this to light Mr. Balko. I am sorry Mr. Maye last ten years of his life; Mississippi is such a sorry state. Thank God I don't live there.

  • ||

    @ mark if anyone is going to burn in hell it will be you for saying that God remembers all come up
    north and talk that trash,see God took care of him no matter what you say cause he is coming home so put that in ur pipe and smoke it you red neck hillbilly

  • Gabe||

    Fantastic work and article. You are the man.

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    $94.83 being delivered to our house tomorrow by f3dex. I will never again pay expensive r3tailprices at stores.I even sold a 46 inch HDTV to my boss for $650 and it only cost me $52.78 to get.Here is the website we using to get all this stuff, BuzzSave.com.......,.

  • M||

    Jesus Christ, Reason magazine, can't you

    a) have a decent spam filter
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  • thunderbolt||

    Can't the Police think of a better way to execute a search, other than bashing in the door? How about watching until the occupant leaves, and then capture him? Why use unsafe and dangerous methods? .... Don't answer, I know .... Police are stupid.

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