Laurent appeal going before Miss. Court of Appeals

Published 2:42 am Sunday, July 3, 2011

One of the Gulf Coast’s most high-profile murder cases makes its way to the Mississippi Court of Appeals this term.

The investigation into the death of Brandi Laurent lasted almost three years and ended in 2010 with the conviction of her husband, Leo Lucas Laurent, a former youth soccer coach. He is serving a life sentence.

The couple was living in a FEMA trailer near Kiln when Brandi Laurent disappeared on Aug. 3, 2007. Leo Laurent contacted the media the next day and claimed his wife had been abducted by drug dealers.

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The 29-year-old mother of two reportedly left on foot, without her car, identification, keys, cell phone or cash. Leo Laurent told reporters he had been unsuccessfully searching for his wife.

Three months later, her remains were found in a shallow grave in a field about a mile from their home. Her death was ruled homicide by suffocation.

Leo Laurent was arrested on Jan. 9, 2008, and charged with murder. He had told deputies she left their home after the two argued. He also said she had been using drugs for several days.

He was convicted on Jan. 30, 2010 in Forrest County, where the trial was moved because of pretrial news coverage.

At trial, defense attorneys called Laurent’s wife’s death an accident.

On appeal, Laurent’s attorneys argue in court documents that prosecutors didn’t prove Laurent’s guilt and that jurors were not allowed to consider his claim of self-defense.

The Court of Appeals will decide the case based on written briefs. It did not schedule oral arguments.

Laurent’s appeal is among dozens the Appeals Court will consider during its July-August term. Among the others are:

— A post-conviction appeal from a Jackson County woman sentenced to life in prison in the death of an 8-week-old child. Amy Danielle Wilkerson pleaded guilty in 2007 to murder in the death of Tristan Chinn. Prosecutors say the baby was shaken to death.

In a post-conviction petition, an inmate argues he or she has found new evidence — or a possible constitutional issue — that could persuade a court to order a new trial.

— William Joseph Hogan’s appeal of his 2009 conviction in DeSoto County and life sentence for the shooting death of his wife. Prosecutors say Hogan shot his wife, 32-year-old Wendy Thweatt, multiple times on the night of Aug. 27, 2008. They say the shooting followed a dispute that had been brewing for several days.

— Derrick Williams’ appeal of his 2010 capital murder conviction in Lauderdale County for the bludgeoning death of a 52-year-old convenience store operator. Williams was sentenced to life in prison for the slaying. Williams was given 30 years for armed robbery and auto theft. Prosecutors say Mohamed Alnazaili was found dead in August 2008 at the Bonita BP Station he owned. An autopsy showed Alnazaili died of blunt-force trauma.

— Ricky Gavin’s post-conviction appeal of his life sentence without parole handed down in 2009 in Jones County in the death of an elementary school teacher. Gavin pleaded guilty to capital murder in the Nov. 23, 2008, slaying of Rebecca Pruitt. Prosecutors say Pruitt was bound with tape and stabbed at least 16 times after inviting Gavin and another man into her home.

— Johnny Ray Sims’ appeal of his 2010 capital murder conviction in Jefferson Davis County for the death of a 7-year-old girl. Sims was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Prosecutors say Sims was arrested in the 2006 stabbing death of Jamaya Griffith. Prosecutors say the girl was visiting her great-grandmother in Bassfield when she was kidnapped after going outside to ride her bicycle. Authorities say her body was found later underneath a pile of clothing in a closet at Sims’ home.