• 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.
Beyond the issues of race and guns, beyond even the question of Cory Maye’s guilt or innocence, the death of Ron Jones illustrates the dangers of an increasingly literal war on drugs featuring unnecessarily aggressive, militaristic tactics that regularly lead to tragedies for police officers and civilians alike. At least 40 innocent people have been killed in paramilitary-style drug raids since the early 1980s, as have at least 15 police officers. And there are at least 150 cases of “wrong door” raids, in which SWAT teams or similarly aggressive police units have raided the wrong home.
‘He Used to Cook for Me All the Time’
Cory Maye was born to Dorothy Maye Funchess on September 9, 1980, the youngest of seven children. His father is Robert Brown, a man who was absent for much of Maye’s childhood but reconnected with his son when the young man was in his late teens. Maye takes his last name from Kenneth Maye, who was married to his mother for several years and was the primary male influence during his formative years.