When armed men broke into his home in Prentiss, Mississippi, a half-hour after midnight on December 26, 2001, Cory Maye grabbed a handgun and fired three shots into the darkness as one of the intruders burst into the bedroom where his 18-month-old daughter was sleeping. "Police!" someone shouted. "You just shot an officer!"
The cops were there on a false tip, and their search for drugs turned up nothing but a gram of marijuana. Maye insisted he did not know the men storming his house were police officers and was only trying to defend himself and his daughter. He was nevertheless convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for killing police officer Ron Jones.
When Radley Balko told Maye's story in reason ("The Case of Cory Maye," October 2006), he was still on death row. In July he walked free, thanks partly to Balko's coverage, which helped Maye attract legal and financial assistance.
Circuit Court Judge Michael Eubanks threw out Maye's death sentence in December 2006 after concluding that his representation during the penalty phase of his trial was inadequate. A year later, Maye was resentenced to life without parole. Two years after that, the Mississippi Court of Appeals ordered a new trial, saying Maye (who is black) should have been tried in mostly black Jefferson Davis County, where he shot Jones (who was white), since Mississippi defendants have a constitutional right to a local jury.
A year after that ruling, in December 2010, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed that Maye should get a new trial, but on different grounds. It said the jury instructions were crucially flawed because they did not mention the possibility of acquitting Maye based on a "defense of others" claim: the argument that he was trying to protect his daughter when he fired the round that killed Jones.
Those decisions led prosecutors to reconsider their case against Maye, and in July they let him plead guilty to manslaughter, for which he received a sentence of 10 years—time he had already served. "This is Mississippi, and some people refuse to let go of their old ways from the old days," Maye, now 30, said in an open letter explaining his plea. "I just didn't want to put my family through any more heartache, and didn't want to have to wait any longer."