Mississippi judges denies bond reduction request for man accused of shooting into RV filled with tourists
Published 1:05 pm Thursday, November 30, 2023
A request to reduce the bond of Jamal Lee Watson, 26, was denied Wednesday by Sixth District Circuit Court Judge Debra Blackwell, who found the suspect “a danger to the community.”
Watson is accused of firing into an RV that held two couples who were passing through Natchez on their way to vacation in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, on April 6.
The four people — Robert Davis and his wife, Huenema S. Davis, of Zachary, Louisiana, and Amy Wilson and Don Owens of Denham Springs, Louisiana — were in the RV after having stopped to have a meal at LaFiesta Mexican Restaurant on John R. Junkin Drive in Natchez.
As the four were preparing to leave, Watson, who was riding a bicycle, allegedly rode up and fired more than a dozen gunshots into the RV.
“This was a random act of extreme violence,” said Sixth District Assistant District Attorney Barbara Bluntson. “That RV was riddled with bullets. It is a wonder no one was killed or injured.”
In an effort to escape the gunfire, Bluntson said the driver of the RV left the Natchez Market parking lot and drove to the parking lot at the Natchez Mall to see if anyone was injured and to call police.
“Watson then drove his bicycle around the back of the parking lot, which leads to the Natchez Mall parking lot,” she said.
The Natchez Police Department, aided by deputies from the Adams County Sheriff’s Office and other surrounding agencies, apprehended Watson quickly and recovered the weapon used in the shooting.
Watson, who has been in custody since April 7, has yet to be indicted for the alleged crime. Bluntson said after the hearing Wednesday morning that evidence has been presented to the grand jury, but no vote to indict has been taken.
“It has been continued, awaiting more information,” Bluntson said.
The Natchez Police Department has charged Watson with four counts of attempted murder, for which bond was set at $500,000 each; one count of shooting into a vehicle, for which bond was set at $100,000; and one count of shooting a gun in the city limits, a misdemeanor, for which bond was set at $1,250, for a total bond of $2,101,250.
Defense attorney Charles Irvin of Jackson said Sheila Watson hired him to seek a reduction in her son’s bond and to have the court to order a mental health evaluation for Watson.
Sheila Watson testified that her son was a “real go-getter. He left Natchez as soon as he graduated. He bought his own bus ticket to Houston.”
She said her son was a native of Natchez but lived and worked in Texas and was back and forth between Natchez and Texas as an adult.
Sheila Watson said about a month before the alleged shooting, she could tell Jamal Watson was having mental issues.
“He was scared of people,” she said.
Sheila Watson testified that she lives in Texas and is a general laborer, but said she had a house here at 32 Foster Mound Road that her son could stay in and that she would care for him when she could. Other family would care for him when she had to be away for work.
His grandmother, Gwendolyn Watson, testified Jamal Watson lived with her and her husband, who was ill at the time, at their home at 230 Country Club Drive for about eight weeks in October and November 2022. However, she said Jamal Watson’s behavior began to disturb the couple.
“He would get up all through the night talking and laughing,” Gwendolyn Watson said. “I called his mom and told her I couldn’t do it anymore.”
Both testified Jamal Watson lived in a black van for a time, but he sold that van at the urging of his brother, who said it was scaring people in the neighborhood.
“People in the community said it looked like a kidnapper’s van,” she said.
At the time of the shooting, Jamal Watson was homeless, though he sometimes stayed in an area hotel.
In her ruling, Blackwell said, “I wholeheartedly agree he needs a mental evaluation.”
However, she denied any reduction of his bond.
“It is obvious there is no definitive, stable environment,” for Watson if he were released, Blackwell said.
“This was a violent crime committed in a public place. The court finds at this time that Watson is a danger to the community,” she said.
“This is a sad situation and it exemplifies how our state has failed those with mental illness. In May, the court ordered he undergo a mental health evaluation. However, the court changed their procedure for those,” Blackwell said. “I am going to order that Dr. Chris Lott, who is a forensic mental health evaluator for the state, evaluate Mr. Watson.”
She told defense attorney Irvin that it would be his responsibility to work out the logistics of that evaluation.
Watson, who was originally present in the courtroom, was removed and held in an office outside before the hearing began at the request of his attorney.
Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten said Watson has been a disruptive and “explosive” inmate and that it takes up to six jailers and deputies to move him.