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Convicted killer of two set for May release



james williams murder
Cindy Mangum, seen in this undated photo holding her son Zeno, was killed by her stepson, James Williams III, who scheduled to be paroled in May. (Photo credit: Courtesy of Barbara Rankin / Mississippi Today)

Double murderer James Williams III is set to walk out of a Mississippi prison May 16.

The state Parole Board has agreed to release Williams, who was convicted in 2005 of shooting to death his father, James Jr., and stepmother, Cindy Lassiter Mangum, after failing to poison them to death. He was 17 at the time of the killings in south Jackson.

“He murdered ‘em, threw ‘em in trash bags, put them in Rubbermaid trash cans and threw ‘em out like the trash,” said Magnum’s son, Zeno. “We are concerned not only for our personal safety, but also for the safety of anyone who may come in contact with this psychopath.”

Parole Board Chairman Jeffrey Belk said he was limited in what he could share, “but I can tell you all facts and information was considered and he received the majority number of votes required to be paroled.” He said the parole received no objection from the family or others.

Williams’ lawyer, Jake Howard, called his client “an exceptional candidate for parole.  He has served over 20 years in jail and prison — more than half his life — for the tragic crimes he committed on December 28, 2002, when he was just 17 years old. Since then, he has worked tirelessly to better himself and atone for his crimes.”

Originally given two life without parole sentences, Williams, now 38, qualified for parole after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that juveniles should be eligible for parole.

Mangum’s sister, Barbara Rankin, said it may have been more than 20 years since the 2002 killings took place, but it seems like yesterday to her and her family.

She said Williams presumed by killing his father and stepmother he would inherit $850,000 in life insurance benefits. Their bodies were found a week later in the woods.

“My husband and I saw the bodies,” Rankin said. “The investigator said it was the most horrific thing he’d ever seen.”

Williams initially denied that he killed them before telling police that his father beat him and pulled a gun on him for missing work days earlier, according to court records.

Williams then got a gun from his room and shot his father, and when Mangum walked in the room and started screaming, he shot her, too, according to records.

At trial, Williams gave a different version of events. He testified that his father accidentally shot Mangum and that a friend shot his father.

A jury convicted Williams of murdering the couple, and the judge sentenced him to life without parole.

Mangum’s son, Zeno, said each time Williams has become eligible for parole, the family has flooded the Parole Board with letters and has appeared before the board.

Last year, the board assured her and her family that Williams would never be paroled, Rankin said.

On her birthday, April 15, she opened something from the mailbox. It was a letter from the Parole Board.

“We understand this decision may come as a disappointment to you,” Stephanie Walters, the board’s executive secretary, wrote. “However, the board believes that Offender James Williams is able to be a law-abiding citizen and that parole supervision would be more beneficial than further incarceration.”

Rankin said she couldn’t read past the first line before she was overcome with emotion.

Former Parole Board Chairman Steve Pickett said he and the Parole Board had reviewed Williams’ case “numerous times, and he was previously denied for parole multiple times.”

Pickett worked at the time in the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department. “Because it happened in Hinds County,” he said, “I was familiar with the case.”

Asked why parole was denied, Pickett replied that Williams gave varied stories to the board “about the circumstances that led to the deaths of his father and stepmother.” There was also “community opposition all along,” he said.

Belk told Mississippi Today that Mangum’s family “admittedly chose not to reply or schedule a meeting with the Parole Board.”

Zeno Mangum responded that he received no notification.

Belk disputed that claim, saying that the board and Victim Services of the Mississippi Department of Corrections “made numerous attempts months ahead of the hearing to notify all registered victims. They admittedly chose not to reply or schedule a meeting with the Parole Board.”

He added that Williams’ parole also received no opposition from the sheriff, district attorney or judge.

James Williams III, convicted of killing his father and stepmother, is seen in this photo from his graduation from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary with a Bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry.

Howard pointed to Williams’ achievements as proof of change: a GED and a bachelor’s degree in Christian ministry as well as completing numerous other educational and rehabilitation programs.

“James has devoted himself to serving God and his fellow inmates,” Howard said. “He has been affiliated with MDOC’s faith-based programs since 2008, began tutoring students in 2012, became a field minister in 2018, and served as the Minister of Music for Parchman’s Koinonia Church from 2020 until 2022.”

At that time, Williams voluntarily agreed to transfer to the Marshall County Correctional Facility as a missionary and field minister, served as pastor for the Living Waters Baptist Church, taughta “Fundamentals of the Faith” class and provided counseling services to other inmates, Howard said.

Williams has received glowing letters of support for his release from chaplains, the seminary director and the Parole Board’s own psychologist as well as dozens of others, Howard said. Upon release, Williams hopes to serve as a chaplain at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.

If Williams is truly changed, Rankin asked, why hasn’t he reached out to the family?

“He has never shown an ounce of remorse,” she said. “In 20 years, he has never reached out to Zeno and said he’s sorry, because he’s not sorry.”

Howard responded that Williams “is deeply remorseful, makes no excuses for his crimes, and understands why members of his father’s and stepmother’s families oppose his release on parole.”

He pointed to Williams’ letter to the Parole Board, where he wrote, “I will have to live the rest of my days knowing that I took the lives of two people I loved. I could give reasons for my state of mind at the time, but I know that nothing can ever justify taking lives. I also know that there is nothing I can do to lessen the pain of those I deprived of loved ones. I sincerely wish I could change the past, but I cannot.”

Howard said Williams is “truly a model of what our correctional system hopes to accomplish. I’m honored to call him a friend, as well as a client. If James Williams hasn’t earned the privilege of supervised release on parole, then I’m not sure who could.”

Rankin said it would be one thing to parole someone for a drug offense or a nonviolent offense, “but when you have somebody who threw away bodies, and we can’t even see the bodies at the funeral because it’s so bad. No family should have to go through that.”

She has never missed a single parole hearing, but one of her sisters had to recently enter the intensive care unit, she said. “I don’t know if she’s going to die up in that hospital.”

She hopes the Parole Board will rescind Williams’ parole, just as the board has done before.

She choked back the tears. “I’m devastated to say the least, because it’s like living the thing over and over,” she said. “I feel like I’ve failed Zeno.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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