Canyon Boykin’s manslaughter case will move out of Lowndes County.
Mississippi 16th Circuit Judge Lee Coleman granted a change of venue motion filed by Canyon’s attorneys, Jeffrey Reynolds and Jim Waide, after a hearing on Friday morning.
Boykin, 26, is charged with manslaughter in the Oct. 16, 2015 shooting death of 26-year-old Ricky Ball. Boykin is a former Columbus Police Department officer who was on duty at the time of the incident.
Stanley Alexander and Patrick Beasely of the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office are prosecuting the case.
After hearing arguments and witnesses from the prosecution and defense, Coleman said he felt it best to move Boykin’s trial out of Lowndes County.
“Considering the totality of the circumstances, the court feels that the interests of justice and inspiring confidence in the decision of whatever jury ultimately decides this case…would best be served by having 12 jurors who know absolutely nothing about this case whatsoever,” Coleman said.
Coleman requested both sides submit three counties for him to consider moving the case to. Given the nature of the case, it’s important to consider similar demographics to Lowndes County, he said.
The court will consider options at a hearing at a later date.
Arguments for and against change of venue
Reynolds said the media and social media coverage of Boykin’s case has been “pervasive” since the shooting.
He referenced speculation that Boykin murdered Ball intentionally and that police planted a reportedly stolen 9mm pistol on Ball’s body.
“There’s speculation that Mr. Ball was shot in the back,” Reynolds said. “We know that’s false because the autopsy report shows he was shot as he was turning back, pointing the pistol at Officer Boykin, in the upper right tricep and in the side of his right thigh.”
Reynolds also referenced threats to Boykin. He said Boykin has been threatened or followed in public, and there is a Facebook post that says he “deserves a bullet to the face.”
Reynolds called Lowndes County Sheriff Mike Arledge and former game warden and deputy sheriff Wayne Beard to testify. Both witnesses said they believed Boykin could not receive a fair trial because of the extensive media coverage his case has received.
Beasley, in arguing against a change of venue, said that he believed the presence of negative coverage of the Ball case does not necessarily demand a change of venue.
The state called Rev. Steven James and Lowndes County NAACP president LaVonne Harris to testify in the hearing. Both witnesses acknowledged that the shooting has sparked widespread community interest. However, they also said they don’t believe the court could not assemble an impartial jury.
“You’re going to have negative press coverage in any case where someone loses their life,” Beasely said. “You’re going to have negative statements on both sides. You’re going to have people in the community who are going to jump to conclusions — that are going to make up their minds. You’re going to have that.
“The issue becomes, has that so permeated this community that we cannot sit 12 impartial jurors in Lowndes County?” Beasely said.
Beasely also questioned how much of a role social media should have in determining if a change of venue hearing is necessary.
“If that’s the standard, we’ll never have a trial anywhere because social media is uncontrollable, and it’s worldwide,” he said.
Change of venue standards
Friday’s hearing centered on whether the case met standards for a change of venue as laid out by the Mississippi Court of Appeals in its July 2016 ruling in Charles Gregory Davis vs State of Mississippi. In that case, the court referenced an earlier ruling that identified three “irrebuttable” factors to consider for changes of venue.
Those standards were capital cases; crowds threatening violence toward the accused; and an inordinate amount of media coverage, particularly in cases of serious crimes against influential families, serious crimes against public officials, serial crimes, crimes committed by a black defendant upon a white victim, or while there is inexperienced trial counsel.
Boykin’s case is not a capital case. Coleman said while there haven’t been crowds threatening Boykin, threats such as the Facebook comment have been made against the former officer.
Coleman further noted there has been heavy media coverage of the case and said he believes that crimes committed by a public official or employee bear serious consideration, as do those committed by a white defendant against a black victim. Boykin is white. Ball was black.
Boykin shot and killed Ball the night of Oct. 16, 2015 after Ball fled on foot from a traffic stop. He was a passenger in the vehicle being stopped.
Lowndes County Coroner Greg Merchant said Ball was shot twice — once in the upper body and once in the lower body.
Boykin was with CPD officer Johnny Branch and then-officer Yolanda Young. Young resigned from CPD following the shooting.
The officers were in a patrol car with an unauthorized civilian passenger the night of the shooting.
The Columbus City Council fired Boykin weeks after the incident for unauthorized passenger violations, for not having his body camera turned on, and for derogatory social media posts he made toward women, African Americans and disabled people following the shooting.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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