Sidon loses appeal of DUI-related conviction

Published 7:27 pm Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The state Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of a Sidon man sentenced to 25 years in prison for causing an accident in which retired Greenwood fire chief George McCain died in 2003.

Larry Smith was convicted in Leflore County in 2005 of vehicular manslaughter.

Prosecutors said McCain was killed when his motorcycle and a car driven by Smith collided on U.S. Highway 82 about two miles east of Greenwood.

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McCain, 56, was Greenwood’s first black fire chief. A native of Teoc and a U.S. Air Force veteran, he started with the fire department in 1976, became chief in 1992 and retired in 1997.

In his appeal, Smith said prosecutors didn’t prove he had been driving negligently.

Appeals Judge David Anthony Chandler, writing Tuesday for the court, said prosecutors put on evidence that Smith ran the stop sign or he failed to yield.

Chandler said it was undisputed that McCain’s death was a result of the collision with Smith.

“Lastly, Smith admitted drinking that night. Officers discovered an open beer can on the floorboard of Smith’s car, and his blood alcohol content was 0.22, almost three times the legal limit. His mother even said he smelled of alcohol when she visited him at the hospital,” Chandler wrote.

Chandler said Smith’s conviction would stand.

In another case, the Appeals Court upheld the dismissal of Jamar Watts’ post conviction petition in which he sought to withdraw his guilty verdict for his role in a murder-for-hire scheme to keep a Hazlehurst man from testifying in a drug case.

Watts pleaded guilty to murder in Copiah County in 2006. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Watts was one of five people charged in the death of Cordell Johnson in 2004. Prosecutors said Johnson was about to testify against one of the five in a drug case and the murder-for-hire scheme was to keep him from testifying. The victim was shot four times on a Hazlehurst street.

A judge dismissed Watts’ post conviction petition in 2007.

Watts argued to the Appeals Court that his guilty plea was not voluntary and that his attorney should have done a better job.

Chandler, again writing for the Appeals Court, said the court record showed Watts told the judge he understand the consequences of pleading guilty and the sentence that he could receive.

“The record unambiguously reflects that, at the time Watts pleaded guilty, he was fully informed that the only available sentence for the crime of murder was life imprisonment. The record further reflects that this was a favorable arrangement for Watts, who was indicted for capital murder and avoided eligibility for the death penalty by pleading guilty to murder,” Chandler wrote.