Mississippi judge asked to dismiss armed robbery charge after video evidence turns up missing, witnesses change minds
Published 7:45 am Thursday, January 19, 2023
A Mississippi judge is considering how to proceed with an armed robbery case after a surveillance video to be used as evidence turns up missing and other witnesses change their minds about the identification of the suspect.
Arguments for and against a motion to dismiss the charges of armed robbery against the man accused of holding up the Circle K convenience store at the corner of Hwys. 6 and 51 last year were heard in Circuit Court in Batesville Monday.
The motion was filed by Oxford attorney Rhea Tannehill on behalf of Jason Milam, who was indicted for the May 17, 2022, robbery of the store commonly known by its former name of Rascals. Tannehill told Judge Smith Murphey he was denied access to the closed circuit camera footage of the crime for several months before finally learning in December that the District Attorney’s Office was unable to provide the footage because it could not be located in the evidence locker at the Batesville Police Dept.
Tannehill said his client has a constitutional right to review the footage, which was used by police to lead to the arrest of Milam. The defense attorney did not accuse Batesville Police or the State of malfeasance, but stressed to the court that without an opportunity to see the footage, Milam was deprived of his right to fully confront his accusers.
Further, Tannehill said what the store’s surveillance system captured, the video evidence might have been exculpatory, meaning that it could have actually been a benefit to the defendant. In that case, the lawyer said, Milam would certainly be entitled to use the footage at trial.
Robert Shultz, representing the State, told the court the missing evidence shouldn’t be considered exculpatory, and that Milam should be tried with or without the footage. Shultz said it was unfortunate that the taped evidence has not been located, but the prosecution of the defendant should continue as scheduled.
Milam has steadfastly denied his involvement in the crimes, which occurred about 5:30 a.m.
The State maintains that Milam was identified by his twin brother, Jacob Milam, the clerk who was on duty at the story, a customer who was ordered to lay on the floor and was also robbed, and by two other law enforcement officers – Panola County Deputy Marcus Market and MHP Officer Huey McDaniel.
Jacob Milam recanted his identification of Jason shortly after his initial statement.
Both Market and McDaniel, who told Batesville investigators that still shots from the video posted on the BPD social media sites looked like Jason. Both of those officers, after seeing the full video, also changed their minds, indicating that the movements and motions of the person in the video were not those of the accused.
Only the customer in the store, who was robbed of $21, continued to maintain that Jason Milam was the person who committed the crimes. The customer picked Milam from a photo lineup, telling detectives that the eyes of the robber matched those of Milam in the lineup.
Detective Adam Smithey of the Batesville Police Dept. testified that he saw the video footage while assisting on the case, and said the person caught on camera was dressed in all black clothing with a mask obscuring the face. The footage, he said, would normally be transferred to a USB drive and stored in the evidence locker.
Smithey told the court he and others at the department have “searched and scoured” for the video, but have been unable to locate it. The original lead investigator has since left the department and the phone and computer he used while working in Batesville have since been “wiped” and assigned to another officer. Also taken during the robbery was $161.41 from the cash register, a box of Black & Mild cigars and 15 packs of Newport cigarettes. Judge Murphey listened to about an hour of arguments from both attorneys before advising them he would consider the testimony and issue a written decision on the motion to dismiss.
If Murphey rules the case can continue despite the missing evidence, Milam is scheduled to go to trial Jan. 23.