Judge Denies Elliot Culp's New Trial Motion - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Durant 08/15/03

Judge Denies Elliot Culp's New Trial Motion

By Cheryl Lasseter

No new trial for Elliot Culp, who, during a high-profile trial in Holmes County 1 1/2 years ago, was found guilty of the kidnapping, armed robbery and assault of Texas runaways Allen Paul Scott and Christina Ingram, and also the rape of Ingram. Scott died of his injuries, but Culp was not convicted of murder.

His attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, requested a retrial just weeks ago, after discovering the Holmes County Attorney's wife, Dawn Boutwell, and Durant Police dispatcher Barry Mitchell, sat on the grand jury that indicted Culp. But Circuit Judge Janie Lewis has found no improper conduct.

It's a relief to district attorney Jim Powell, who prosecuted Culp. "Culp doesn't need to be back on the street. I'm happy he's not," he says.

The outcome has surprised some Holmes County folks. "I'm surprised the judge wouldn't give him a retrial," says Natasha Johnson of Lexington. "If there's enough evidence to take back the trial, it seems like she should."

"Justice will find its way out," says Walter Gibson, also of Lexington. "If he didn't do it he'll be free. If he did, gone."

Was the grand jury tainted by Boutwell and Mitchell's presence, even though neither of them voted on Culp's indictment? Judge Lewis says no, but in her five-page order she suggests that police dispatchers and relatives of attorneys who may be involved in a particular case stay off grand juries in the future.

"I'm still not sure what I can do about that," Powell says. "Once someone's placed on the grand jury, I don't have the authority to tell anyone to get off. It's an optional thing with the grand jury."

Culp was sentenced to 60 years in prison.. He'll be eligible for parole at age 70.

The office of attorney Chokwe Lumumba is preparing a statement in response to Judge Lewis' order, but no comment was available by the early evening Friday.

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