One of the ex-prisoners who received a full pardon last year from then-Gov. Haley Barbour was involved in exchange of gunfire that killed another man Thursday night, a northern Mississippi sheriff said.
Calhoun County Sheriff Greg Pollan said Wayne Thurman Harris of Slate Springs and Chris McGonagill of Calhoun City got into an argument at a cookout and both of them fired guns. Both men were wounded, McGonagill fatally.
“We’re trying to put it all together. It’s like a puzzle,” Pollan said. “We know Harris was hit once in the leg and McGonagill about six times.”
Pollan said no charges have been filed because he has not had a chance to interview Harris.
McGonagill died about 1 a.m. Friday at Baptist Hospital in Oxford. Harris was being treated at the North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo.
The incident took place about three miles south of Calhoun City on Mississippi Highway 9. Calhoun City is about 150 miles northeast of Jackson.
Harris received a full and unconditional pardon from Barbour on Jan. 10, 2012. Pollan said — and state documents show — Harris had completed his sentence for sale of marijuana when the pardon was issued.
State prison system records show Harris was sentenced in Calhoun County on Jan. 19, 2001, for the sale of marijuana to 20 years in prison, with five years suspended conditioned upon his completion of three years post release supervision. He was given an official release on Dec. 21, 2007.
Convicted felons typically are not allowed to possess firearms, but Pollan said that does not apply in Harris’ case because of the full pardon he received from Barbour.
Pollan said at least three other people were at the cookout when the argument began.
“At this point we don’t think anyone else was involved,” he said
He said investigators determined that McGonagill was carrying a 9mm pistol and shot Harris at least once in the leg. He said Harris pulled a .22-caliber rifle out of his truck, which was parked nearby, and fired at McGonagill, striking him multiple times.
“At this point we know at least 13 total shots were fired,” Pollan said. However, he said, “We cannot confirm who fired first.”
“Once I talk to (Harris) we’ll meet with the district attorney and go over the case and decide then about charges,” the sheriff said.
Barbour, a Republican, sparked an uproar when he pardoned nearly 200 people as his second term was ending in January 2012. The total included four convicted murderers and a robber who worked as inmate trusties at the Governor’s Mansion. Crime victims’ advocates and families across the state called for the pardons to be revoked.
Barbour has said he’s at peace with the pardons because his Christian faith teaches about redemption.
“I believe in second chances and I try hard to be forgiving,” Barbour said in an interview last year.
The issue went to the Mississippi Supreme Court which ruled last March that the pardons were valid.
Barbour’s actions also prompted a short-lived legislative debate about changing the governor’s pardoning powers. However, lawmakers made no changes.
Mississippi’s custom of using convicted killers and others serving long sentences as workers at the Governor’s Mansion is somewhat unusual. For decades, it was the custom of governors to grant those workers some type of early release.
Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican who succeeded the term-limited Barbour, stopped the program. He also said he would not issue such pardons.