Police find missing JSU student’s body, charge ex-boyfriend with murder

Published 5:07 pm Friday, November 30, 2007

The ex-boyfriend of a missing Jackson State University student was charged with murder Thursday after leading police to her decomposed body in the woods off a quiet Jackson street, authorities said.

The discovery of 20-year-old Latasha Norman’s body was a tragic ending for an accounting major who worked on the school newspaper and ended up the focus of a story that grabbed national attention.

“Most of the people she was around, she touched them with that beautiful smile,” said Norman’s uncle, Matthew Norman. “We’re going to miss this jewel that we’ve lost.”

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Norman’s ex-boyfriend, 24-year-old Stanley Dwayne Cole of Greenville, was charged with murder after being interviewed by detectives on Thursday, said Jackson Police Sgt. Jeffery B. Scott.

“Investigators were able to locate the body based on information developed in the course of the interview,” Scott said.

Her body was found off Brown Street in north Jackson near some old tires and a faded blue tarpaulin, callously discarded among empty beer bottles and other road side trash.

Brown Street is a sparsely populated road near Tougaloo College, a historically black private school, about a mile west of Intestate 55. It was not clear how long the body had been there.

Authorities identified the body “based on evidence recovered from the crime scene and from forensic evidence,” Scott said.

Scott said Cole had hired an attorney, but did not know the lawyer’s name. A sergeant at the Hind’s County Jail said Cole had been booked into the facility, but she did not know the name of his lawyer, either. Bail is to be set during an initial appearance Friday.

Norman, who is also from Greenville in the Mississippi Delta, had been the target of attacks in the weeks before her disappearance, including an incident for which Cole was charged with simple assault, authorities said. Her car tires were slashed by someone on another occasion.

Norman was last seen alive after leaving an afternoon class on Nov. 13. Jackson State President Ronald Mason said he believes Norman left the campus with Cole.

When the body was discovered, Brown Street residents gathered in front of an apartment complex and a small community center with faded pink walls Thursday as investigators worked at the crime scene.

“This is scary,” said 37-year-old Denise Lewis. “This is unusual for this area.”

The disappearance also rattled some of the 7,900 students who attend Jackson State, which is located in the heart of the capital city and known as “Mississippi’s Urban University.”

“When they found her body, it was kind of jaw-dropping,” said 21-year-old senior Anastasia Sampson. “You just kind of hoped she was living it up, like she was just being young.”

Friday classes were canceled and counselors were available to students, Mason said.

Mason said hundreds of students showed up Wednesday for a vigil and many prayed, hoping for Norman’s safe return.

“Those prayers will now become prayers of hope in a different way,” Mason said.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete. Her family had been hoping for the best.

“She was a very beautiful person. A very high-spirited individual who saw her future,” Matthew Norman said. “She wanted to succeed and thrive. She was ambitious, but she was a quiet person and didn’t make a lot of noise in accomplishing what she wanted.”