Appeals Court upholds murder conviction in Harrison Co. case

Published 4:38 pm Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The state Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld James Preston Bailey’s murder conviction and sentence of life without parole in the stabbing death of a man whose skeletal remains were found in the backyard of the killer’s rented home in Gulfport.

Kenneth Kirtland, 50, was reported missing in 2002 after his wife left him at Bailey’s home. His remains were found 13 months later, in October 2003. He died of stab wounds.

Bailey was in prison, serving four years for cultivating marijuana, when Kirtland’s remains were found. In 2005, Bailey was convicted of murder in Harrison County.

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Bailey’s girlfriend, Laura Tharpe, testified at the trial that she saw Bailey stab Kirtland twice, according to court records.

On appeal, Bailey argued prosecutors didn’t prove he killed Kirtland.

Appeals Judge David Anthony Chandler, writing for the court, said Kirtland’s wife made an in-court identification of Bailey as the man with whom Kirtland had argued after giving Bailey and Tharpe a ride home on the night of Sept. 20, 2002.

The next day, Kirtland’s wife filed a missing person report in which she said her husband was last seen in the company of Bailey and Tharpe, Chandler said.

Chandler said Tharpe testified that she saw Bailey stab Kirtland and that she stood lookout during the burial of the victim in the backyard of a house she and Bailey rented. She also testified that she saw Kirtland lying dead by her truck and that she kept quiet about the murder for more than a year until she was confronted by police.

Chandler said the evidence was sufficient to support Bailey’s conviction.

Tharpe pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to the murder. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison.