Cory Jermaine Maye (born September 9, 1980) is a former prisoner in the U.S. state of Mississippi. He was originally convicted of murder in the 2001 death of a Prentiss, Mississippi police officer Ron W. Jones, during a drug raid on the other half of Maye's duplex. Maye has said he thought that the intruders were burglars and did not realize they were police. He pleaded not guilty at his trial, citing self-defense. Nevertheless, Maye was convicted of murder and was sentenced to death. Maye's case attracted little attention until late 2005, when Reason magazine senior editor and police misconduct researcher Radley Balko brought it to light on his blog The Agitator. Balko's research raised several questions about Maye's conviction and in particular about the reliability of medical examiner Steven Hayne, who performed the autopsy on Jones and testified at the trial. According to Maye's supporters, his conviction also brought up issues such as the right to self-defense, police conduct in the War on Drugs, racial and social inequities in Mississippi and whether he received competent legal representation.
On September 21, 2006, Maye's death sentence was unexpectedly overturned by Judge Michael Eubanks, who ruled that Maye had received incompetent legal representation during his sentencing phase, and ordered a new sentencing hearing. Maye was sentenced to life in prison. On November 17, 2009, the Mississippi Court of Appeals ruled that Maye's constitutional right of vicinage was violated when Judge Eubanks refused to return the case to Jefferson Davis County, where the alleged crime occurred. The en banc court reversed Maye's conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. The State of Mississippi appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. On December 2, 2010, the Mississippi Supreme Court issued its decision, in which it held that Maye was entitled to a new trial on the ground that the trial court had improperly refused to issue a self-defense instruction that would have highlighted for the jury Maye's right to act in defense of his infant daughter, who was present in the home on the night of the police raid that led to the shooting.
On July 1, 2011, Judge Prentiss Harrell signed a plea agreement in which Maye pleaded guilty to manslaughter; Maye was then sentenced to ten years in prison, time he had already served. Maye was transferred to Rankin County, Mississippi for procedural paperwork and out-processing and was released on July 18, 2011.
Maye was unemployed at the time of the raid. He and his girlfriend Chanteal had been renting a duplex apartment for less than two months and had actually occupied it for only a few weeks at the time of the raid. Maye kept their 18-month-old daughter while his girlfriend worked at her regular job.
Maye had no criminal record until he was convicted of killing Jones.
Death of Officer Jones
At 11 p.m. on the night of December 26, 2001, Ron Jones along with other police officers and an agent employed by the Pearl River Basin Narcotics Task Force, a four-county police agency responsible for drug enforcement, went to Maye's duplex for the purpose of drug interdiction. Jones, though not a member of the task force, had received a confidential tip that large quantities of marijuana were being stored and sold in the apartment of Jamie Smith, who lived in the other half of the duplex. The officers obtained search warrants for both apartments. Whether the warrants legally allowed for a no-knock entry is still not clear.
Smith was arrested without incident. Although some illicit drugs were found in his home, Maye's former attorney, Rhonda Cooper, says Smith was never charged with drug possession or distribution. They found a little more than a gram of marijuana, most of it old and ashen—at worst a misdemeanor. Jefferson Davis County District Attorney Claiborne "Buddy" McDonald says he does not remember Smith being charged or convicted.
There is disagreement about what happened next. The officers then either served the warrant on Maye's half of the duplex (later, prosecutors would say both were served simultaneously) or entered what they thought was another door to Smith's in search of more contraband.
Four of the officers who took part in the raid testified they knocked on Maye's door and identified themselves as law enforcement officers. Maye testified he heard neither knocks on his door nor anyone announce themselves. Maye testified he was asleep on a chair in the living room when he heard a crash, prompting him to run to his daughter's bedroom and ready a .380 caliber pistol that he kept boxed and unloaded on top of a tall headboard. When Jones entered the bedroom, Maye fired three times. Jones was wearing a bulletproof vest, but one bullet hit just below the vest, and the injury proved fatal.
Jones, the son of Prentiss' then police chief, was not a regular member of the narcotics task force, but a K9 officer for the Prentiss police department. Trial testimony showed that when Jones exited the apartment and fell to the ground outside, his pistol was holstered.
Maye had no criminal record, and wasn't the named target of a search warrant. Police initially concluded they had found no drugs in Maye's side of the duplex, but later claimed that one smoked marijuana cigarette was in the apartment along with a plastic bag containing "traces" of the drug.
The trial was held in neighboring Marion County, after Maye's lawyer successfully argued for a change of venue. But his lawyer's original request and agreement for the venue change had been to Lamar County, an adjoining county that is 88% white. When she belatedly realized her error, Maye's trial lawyer tried unsuccessfully to have the trial moved back to Jefferson Davis County. Interestingly, although the trial judge refused the request to return the trial to Jefferson Davis County, he did again change the venue to Marion County where the trial was subsequently held. Of the 12 jurors subsequently selected, two were African American.
Maye testified that it was dark in his apartment when he heard someone breaking into the back door, which was located in the bedroom. "That's when I fired the shots," Maye said. "After I fired the shots, I heard them yell 'police! police!' Once I heard them, I put the weapon down and slid it away. I did not know they were police officers."
The weapon used was stolen approximately one year prior to the shooting. Maye claims it was given to him by a friend. Mississippi law indicates that it is justifiable to kill another in an act of reasonable self-defense. It also provides that the killing of a police officer is not capital murder if the killer had no knowledge that the victim was a police officer.
The prosecution claimed that officers announced at the front door and then at the back door of Maye's residence. He and his lawyer say that they only identified themselves as police after he had shot Jones. The defense tried to show Maye did not know the persons breaking in were police officers, and that he was acting to protect his infant daughter in the bedroom. In mitigation the defense argued Maye's lack of a criminal record and his young age (21).
The jury took five hours to convict Maye on the capital murder charge. The same afternoon, Marion County Circuit Court Judge Michael Eubanks sentenced Maye to death by lethal injection.
Maye entered MDOC on January 26, 2004. He was incarcerated in the State of Mississippi's male death row in Unit 32, a part of the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Sunflower County, and later in the Delta Correctional Facility in Greenwood, Mississippi.
While researching related material, columnist and blogger Radley Balko ran across Maye's case and blogged his initial findings. Other bloggers across the political spectrum picked them up. Balko wrote extensively on the Maye case, posting updates regarding Maye's court dates, findings, decisions, et al., and illustrating what he felt were the many inadequacies and errors with both the initial search of Maye's home, his legal representation, and the unfit nature of the jurors, among other complaints. Radley's attention to and prolific reporting on the case are widely credited with Maye's eventual release.
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Maye's original attorney, Rhonda Cooper, had never tried a capital murder case before she represented Maye. Maye's family fired Cooper after Maye's conviction.
Maye is currently represented by Bob Evans, the original public defender in the case. Evans is the public defender for Jefferson Davis County, and was concurrently the public defender for the town of Prentiss, seat of Jefferson Davis County, until January 10, 2006, when he was fired by the Prentiss Board of Aldermen. According to the mayor of Prentiss, Charles Dumas, Evans' dismissal was directly related to his representation of Maye.
The Washington, D.C., law firms of Covington & Burling, Pafford Lawrence & Ross, and the Vernia Law Firm, as well as professor Orin Kerr of The George Washington University Law School represent Maye pro bono publico.
Terry R. Cox, Certified Legal Investigator (CLI) of The Lonewolf Group Legal Investigation & Consulting of Booneville, Mississippi, was engaged by Maye's counsel to assist in the post conviction investigation of the case. Cox was instrumental in tracking down the "unknown confidential informant" who acknowledged his involvement and later testified at a hearing in the matter which proved instrumental in the court setting aside the death penalty.
Discrepancies in police and court records
Since Jones died, it is impossible to know how thoroughly he investigated the tip he received before passing it along. He claimed he had observed unusually heavy traffic at the residence, but left no written record of when he made those observations (important since Maye had only moved into the apartment a few weeks before the raid). The credibility of the informant is not known beyond Jones' statement that information he had previously provided had led to a single arrest. It also appears that Jones and a colleague did not verify the tip, which is typically done by making a controlled drug buy.
Jones' affidavit for the warrants names Smith but not Maye, referring only to "person or persons unknown" in the other apartment. Both apartments are described using the same language.
Times have been changed on official records of when evidence was collected from both apartments. Characteristically for what was initially a major drug arrest, Smith's apartment was swept immediately afterwards. However, several changes made to the documents for Maye put the time of that evidence collection at 5:20 a.m., several hours after the raid.
Maye's family and his attorney also accused officers of beating him while he was in custody after his arrest. His mug shot, taken the day of the shooting, shows Maye with a prominent swollen and discolored right eye. Officers and prosecutors denied that any beating occurred.
Maye's appeal was argued before the Mississippi Court of Appeals on June 4, 2009; on November 17, 2009, the court set aside his conviction and ordered a new trial on the grounds that he was denied his right to have the trial conducted in the county of the alleged crime.
On June 24, 2010, the Mississippi Supreme Court granted petitions for writ of certiorari filed by both the State of Mississippi (arguing that the Court of Appeals' decision to grant Maye a new trial was erroneous) and Maye (arguing that the Court of Appeals erred in not vacating his conviction entirely and dismissing the charges for insufficient evidence, and advancing alternative grounds for a new trial).
On December 2, 2010, the Mississippi Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals' decision and granted Maye a new trial on the grounds that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury as Maye had requested on the nature of self-defense and defense of others (i.e., his daughter).
On the morning of July 1, 2011, Maye was offered and accepted a plea agreement. Judge Prentiss Harrell of the 15th Circuit Court of Mississippi signed the agreement under which Maye pleaded guilty to manslaughter in exchange for a ten-year sentence, which was decreed to be time served. Maye was then transferred to Rankin County, Mississippi for procedural paperwork and out-processing, and was released on July 18, 2011.
- Convicted Murderer Sentenced to Death
- Railroaded Onto Death Row?
- Radley Balko's feature on Maye for Reason
- Radley Balko Interviewed About Cory Maye On Charles Goyette Show - Air America Radio Phoenix, Arizona (December 16, 2005)
- Radley Balko's blog entries
- Blog entry by William Norman Grigg
- Waiting for Death in Mississippi at TalkLeft.com (a blog), 9 December 2005
- Maybe, or maybe not by Paul Jacob, Townhall.com, 30 April 2006
- The Drew Carey Project: Mississippi Drug War Blues: The Case of Cory Maye
- Mississippi Appellate Court Video Archive
- Search warrant for Maye residence
- Affidavit for Maye search
- Underlying evidence for Maye affidavit
- Evidence report from the Maye search
- Search warrant for the Smith residence
- Affidavit for the Smith search
- Underlying evidence for the Smith affidavit
- Evidence report from the Smith search
- Balko, Radley, October 2006. The Case of Cory Maye retrieved July 7, 2011
- "Corey Maye". Mississippi Department of Corrections. Archived from the original on July 17, 2011. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
- "Convicted Cop-Killer Wants New Trial". WLBT. February 9, 2004. Retrieved August 12, 2010.
- "Mississippi Drug War Blues: The Case of Cory Maye". Reason. Retrieved August 12, 2010. "Cory Maye is currently housed in Unit 32, the high-security wing at Mississippi's Parchman Penitentiary."
- Kalahar, Jon (October 8, 2007), "'Wall Street Journal' Questions Hayne's Ethics"
- "Man once sentenced to die in Miss. police death pleads guilty to manslaughter, could be freed". The Washington Post. Associated Press. July 1, 2011. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
- Balko, Radley (July 1, 2011). "Cory Maye To Be Released From Prison". The Huffington Post. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
- Cory Maye Is Free
- Maye's records at Mississippi's corrections department
- Article in defence of Maye
- BattlePanda weblog lists many websites that have talked about the case
- Ron Jones's Officer Down Memorial Page.
- A page on Cory Maye's case on the website of The Vernia Law Firm, which represents Maye pro bono publico