At 11p.m on December 26, 2001 police in Prentiss, Mississippi raided the residence of Cory Maye, a 21-year-old father who was at home with his 18-month-old daughter Ta'Corriana.
The cops were looking for drugs and smashed through the back door. In the ensuing chaos, Maye hunkered down with his daughter in a bedroom and when the police broke down that door, he fired three bullets, one of which killed Officer Ron Jones. Maye testified in court that the police did not identify themselves until after they had entered his residence; indeed, he testified that they did not identify themselves until after he had fired his shots. Once they did, he said he put his weapon on the floor, slid it toward police, and surrendered.
The police, who refused to talk with reason.tv, tell a different story. They claim that they identified themselves multiple times before entering Maye's house and bedroom, and that there was no way Maye couldn't have known who they were. A jury rejected Maye's case that he was acting in self-defense and he was sentenced to death for the murder of Officer Ron Jones.
"Mississippi Drug War Blues" is a story about the intersection of race (Maye is black and Jones was white); the war on drugs; the disturbing increase in the militarization of police tactics; and systemic flaws in the criminal justice and expert-testimony systems.
It is a tragedy in which one man is dead and another may spend his life in prison.
It is the subject of an October 2006 story in reason by Senior Editor Radley Balko, whose coverage of the case led to Cory Maye receiving new legal representation and his death sentence being changed to life in prison. To read the original story, please go here.
In September 2006, Cory Maye's new legal team of Robert Evans and lawyers from the Washington, D.C.-based firm of Covington and Burling was given two days to argue their post-trial motion that his guilty verdict should either be overturned or that he should be granted a new trial.
After the hearing, the judge ordered a new sentencing trial, determining that Maye's trial attorney was competent during the guilt phase of his trial, but incompetent during the death penalty phase. He ruled against all of the remaining defense arguments, including concerns about confidential informant Randy Gentry, discrepancies in police testimony, the venue for the trial, and problems with controlling precedent in the state with respect to self-defense.
Prosecutors eventually agreed to drop their pursuit of the death penalty. Earlier this year, Maye was again sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Because of the delays associated with acquiring new representation, Cory Maye's case in May 2008 is still in the early stages of his appeal. His legal team anticipates the case will be heard in the fall.
If the Mississippi State Court of Appeals denies Maye relief, he'll then appeal to the Mississippi State Supreme Court. If he's again denied relief, he'll begin his federal appeal process in the United States District Court in the Southern District of Mississippi, and then to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
In early 2008, a state district court judge in Mississippi denied attempts by Maye's attorneys to bring in Dr. Steven Hayne for questioning (Hayne, who performed the autopsy of Ron Jones, was a key witness for the prosecution). Maye's lawyers had hoped to question Hayne under oath about recent revelations about Hayne's questionable autopsy procedures and questionable credentials, first reported in reason, then touted by the Innocence Project and its Mississippi chapter. Maye's lawyers plan to raise their concerns about Hayne in the appeal.
Cory Maye is currently housed in Unit 32, the high-security wing at Mississippi's Parchman Penitentiary. His daughter Ta'Corrianna lives in Covington, Louisiana with her mother Chanteal Longino. His son Cory, Jr. lives in Jackson, Mississippi.
Update (February 9, 2009): We're proud to announce that Mississippi Drug War Blues: The Case of Cory Maye, by writer-producer Paul Feine and editor-producer Roger M. Richards, was awarded the Best Documentary Short prize at the 2009 Oxford Film Festival in Oxford, Mississippi.
Update (November 20, 2009): On Tuesday of this week, the Mississippi State Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Cory Maye. This is heartening news for Maye, who has been in prison since December of 2001. Defense attorney Bob Evans said of the decision, "I am, needless to say, delighted. I'm just ecstatic. We hoped against hope all along that this would happen." Reason senior editor Radley Balko, who has written extensively about the case, had this to say: "At worst, he's guilty of poor judgment under some pretty traumatic circumstances. He had no criminal record, wasn't a drug dealer and has been a model prisoner. Cory Maye isn't a threat to society. Let him go back to Monticello to be a father."
Update (July 11, 2011): In a plea agreement, Cory Maye pleaded guilty to manslaughter and, with credit for time served, was released from prison. Cory Maye is now a free man.
Mississippi Drug War Blues originally aired on May 7, 2008.