WINONA, Miss. – A 12-year-old who narrowly escaped being shot by his father watched in a Mississippi courtroom Wednesday as the man told a judge he killed the boy's mother, grandmother and another man.
Odell Hallmon pleaded guilty in Winona to three counts of first degree murder only two weeks after the April 27 shootings. The 40-year-old also pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in the shooting of a man who survived and to being felon in possession of a firearm.
Hallmon had already spent more than 15 years in state prison on three felony convictions. Under Mississippi's habitual offender law, Hallmon will never be eligible for parole. Montgomery County Circuit Judge Joey Loper sentenced him to three life terms for the slayings, plus 20 years for the assault and 10 years for the gun charge.
"It's hard for the court to understand the hatred in someone's heart and the darkness and evil in someone's soul that would cause you to do this," Loper said.
Hallmon himself offered no explanation, occasionally answering Loper in a whisper, and his lawyer declined comment.
"He just said he got mad and flipped out," Montgomery County District Attorney Doug Evans said.
Montgomery County Sheriff Jerry "Bubba" Nix said the crimes appeared to be the product of domestic jealousy and drug dealing, and Hallmon told investigators he had planned to shoot others as well.
"He said he was going to kill them all and kill more," Nix said.
The victims included Hallmon's former girlfriend, 32-year-old Marquita Hill, and her mother, 59-year-old Carolyn Ann Sanders. Nix said Hallmon fired a shot into a closet where his and Marquita Hill's 12-year-old son was hiding, but the boy wasn't physically injured. Nix said Marquita Hill had thrown Hallmon out of their Kilmichael home less than a month before the shootings and Hallmon told investigators he believed she was seeing another man.
After that shooting, about 2 a.m. April 27, Nix said Hallmon went to Marcus Brown's Kilmichael home and shot him five times. Brown survived, attending Wednesday's hearing in a wheelchair. Hallmon then drove 11 miles to Winona and shot 32-year-old Kenneth C. Loggins once, killing him, Nix said. The sheriff said that he believed both those crimes were related to drug dealing and that Hallmon told investigators someone had fired a gun into his trailer earlier in April. Hallmon had been released from prison in August after a 10-year term for cocaine possession.
Evans said in court that besides the son and Brown, witnesses included others at the homes of Brown and Loggins. He also said evidence from Hallmon's vehicle was recovered at Loggins' home. Nix said deputies were still looking for the gun, believed to be a Glock 9mm pistol.
Relatives of Marquita Hill said after the sentence that they were still stunned at Hallmon's acts.
"How could you do this, you know, to commit such a horrific crime in front of your son?" asked Ashley Hill, a sister of Marquita Hill. "We don't know what triggered it, what he was thinking, any of that."
They expressed satisfaction at Hallmon's life-without-parole sentence.
"We're glad, so he can't hurt nobody else," said Kristy Hill, another sister. "He's hurt our family enough. I can't call my mama anymore on a Sunday and say 'What are you cooking?'"
Hallmon turned himself in within hours of the shootings, and Nix said that by the next day, he was telling investigators that he wanted to plead guilty.
"He was ready to sign a life sentence and get out of here," Nix said.
In this 11,000-resident county, the next grand jury wasn't supposed to meet until October. But Evans recalled a grand jury that met earlier in April, and it indicted Hallmon hours before he appeared in court. Evans emphasized in court that he'd shared his case file with the defense to make sure the lawyer and Hallmon made an informed decision.
Hallmon faced the judge in the same courthouse where he testified as a jailhouse informant against a suspect in the killing of four people at a Winona furniture store. That case drew wide attention because the suspect stood trial six times.
In the second trial, Hallmon testified for the defense of Curtis Giovanni Flowers, but later flipped, claiming his earlier testimony was a lie. He then testified in the last four trials that Flowers had confessed to the killings while they shared a cell at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. After three convictions were overturned on appeal and two hung juries, Flowers was finally convicted in the killings of four people in a furniture store and now sits on death row.
In at least one of those trials, Hallmon testified that he had AIDS.
Evans, the lead prosecutor in the Flowers trials, said Hallmon hadn't gotten out of prison early because of his testimony.
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This story has been corrected to show that the circuit judge's name is Joey Loper, not Joey Roper.