On Sep. 8, Willie Gene Qualls faced trial and was subsequently sentenced in the Claiborne County Circuit Court by Judge Tomika Irving.
Initially, Qualls was brought up on two charges; the second-degree murder of Authur Newell and being a felon in possession of a handgun after a previous felony conviction. While the jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict regarding the murder charge, they found Qualls guilty of possessing a weapon as a felon.
This conviction categorized him as a habitual offender. As a result, he was immediately sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
The conviction stemmed from an incident that took place five years prior. On Mar. 25, 2018, Qualls was involved in an altercation with an unidentified female outside of Simps Bar in Claiborne County. Surveillance footage showed Qualls firing a shot into the air. Shortly thereafter he was shot in the hip by Montral Johnson, who, as a result, was charged with aggravated assault. After being shot in the hip, footage shows Qualls on the ground, being assaulted by several men. Amidst the chaos, another gunshot, originating from an unknown shooter, hit Authur Newell in the eye, leading to his death.
The footage doesn’t clearly indicate the source of the bullet that hit Newell, but prosecutors chose to charge Qualls with his murder in spite of video evidence showing that Qualls was being beaten by several people at the time the weapon was discharged.
Qualls family speaks
Following his conviction, Anna Qualls, Willie’s wife, contacted the Vicksburg Daily News. She expressed her belief that her husband did not receive fair representation due to a potential conflict of interest. Specifically, one of the lead investigators on the case had previously been married to her mother. She felt this connection should have led to his recusal from the investigation. Further complicating matters, Jeffrey Harness, Quall’s attorney, had sought to be removed from the case, but the court denied his request, according to Anna.
“He would make meetings and break meetings and on the day of trial he tried to get off the case by saying he feared for his life,” said Anna about the attorney appointed to represent her husband. “It even showed in court because the Sheriff or a deputy sat in between them.”
Additionally, Anna mentioned that the gun her husband possessed at the club was handed to him there after he received threats to his life. She also pointed out that several witnesses, including herself, were not called to testify during the trial.
Under Mississippi’s current law, as a habitual offender, Qualls will never be eligible for parole.
“There was no Justice served in this case and they are not looking into the actual facts of the murder,” Anna added.
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