Jury finds man found guilty in 2018 murder of Mississippi chef

Published 3:28 pm Wednesday, July 21, 2021

A jury has found Jesse Scott Smith guilty of first-degree murder in the 2018 shooting death of Brookhaven chef John Ashley Bennett.

Bennett, 42, was found April 21, 2018, at his home on Smith Lake Road by his mother. Brookhaven Police Chief Kenneth Collins said at the time that Bennett had received gunshot wounds that “looked suspicious.”

Smith, who was 40 at the time of the shooting, of 1360 Field Lark Lane, was arrested the next day and charged with Bennett’s murder.

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Bennett’s father, Leon Bennett Jr., said Smith was one of his son’s friends and that he had seen him with John the night before Bennett’s body was found. He described his son as “a sweet kid (with) no ill will against anybody. He had a really kind heart and loved people.”

Smith entered a plea of not guilty before Judge David Strong in Lincoln County Circuit Court in September 2018. Trial was originally scheduled for June 2019, but was delayed multiple times and received a change of venue. Judge Strong had agreed to bring a jury of Walthall County residents to Lincoln County to hear the trial, but in October 2019 moved the venue of the trial to Tylertown in Walthall County.

A reduction of bond was denied for Smith in May 2020, but one week later members of his family posted bond and he was released into their custody from Lincoln County Jail, where he had been since April 22, 2018.

After a two-day trial, Smith was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, to pay a fine in the amount of $10,000, court costs and restitution of $7,500 for funeral expenses.

“The District Attorney’s office would like to thank the jurors of Walthall County, as well as the circuit clerk of Walthall and the Walthall County Sheriff’s Department for their assistance in accommodating the change of venue in this case,” District Attorney Dee Bates said Wednesday afternoon. “Also, thank you to the Brookhaven Police Department and Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department for their investigation and successful prosecution of the case.”

Assistant DAs Brendon Adams and Timothy Jones tried the case on behalf the state.