“Mr. Clark, I have to tell you I do not believe you, not for a second.”
After those words, Jones County Circuit Court Judge Dal Williamson immediately announced the conclusion to the sentencing portion of the trial of 23-year-old James David Clark. The judge sent Clark into the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections for 14 years, with 10 to serve and four suspended but under post-release supervision after his release, for count one of his indictment – the burglary of a dwelling. Clark also received four more years, which will be served concurrently with the time given for count one, for a second charge – the attempted burglary of a dwelling.
“These cases are always difficult, especially when drugs hit good families, and the Clarks are good people,” stated Judge Williamson about the family of the lawbreaker just before announcing the sentence. “But there are troubling signs here today.”
The judge’s sentence came about one hour after a jury returned a verdict of guilt on both counts of the indictment against Clark. The jury retired to the jury room to debate the merits of the case at 9:40 a.m. District Attorney Tony Buckley had a final word for them just moments before they exited the courtroom.
“There’s only one reasonable verdict – guilty,” said Buckley. “Do the right thing. Remind people they have to be accountable for their actions.”
The District Attorney’s office called four witnesses to the stand in their prosecution of Clark, including Jones County Sheriff’s Department officer Lou Lowe, who responded to the call to 15 Rebel Lane on August 1, 2017. The response to Rebel Lane came two months after Clark had broken into a home located at 831 Springhill Road. In addition to Lowe’s work from the witness stand, the State used the testimony of both home owners and Sgt. Charles Myers, an investigator with the Sheriff’s Department, to build their case against the offender. The jury was also able to view video from security cameras that showed Clark approaching and attempting to enter the home at 15 Rebel Lane. A second video showed Clark confessing to the crimes in an interview with Sgt. Myers shortly after his arrest.
The defendant’s attorney, Michael Mitchell, did not call any witnesses to the stand to testify before the jury. Mitchell did make a motion for the Court to issue a direct verdict right after the State rested its case, arguing that the State did not explicitly establish Jones as the county “in the second judicial district of Mississippi” where the crimes took place. Judge Williamson denied the motion.
After the jury’s decision, DA Buckley told the Court that he took “no pleasure in a case like this because of the young man.” Buckley noted that the defendant’s counsel, Mitchell, had entreated him several times to allow his client to go to Drug Court and be placed under house arrest. Buckley initially seemed inclined to acquiesce to that request, but he changed his mind after cross-examining Clark during the sentencing segment of the trial. During that cross-examination, Clark denigrated the evidence submitted by one of Buckley’s investigators, and he did not provide a satisfactory answer to Buckley’s question of why he didn’t show up for an 8:00 a.m. interview necessary to get him into Drug Court.
“What other things did you have going on that was more important than keeping you out of prison?” Buckley asked. “You told your grandfather you went.”
Clark replied that the house of one of his friends had burned around 6:00 a.m. on the morning of the interview, and “I was trying to help him get donations.”
“David, David, David,” responded the DA, almost incredulously. “Don’t tell me you were fundraising for your friend at eight O’clock that morning. Your honor, I have no further questions.”
Before the judge announced his decision, the Court also heard testimony from Clark’s grandfather, James Randolph Clark, who shared, among other things, that his grandson had been to three different drug rehab centers and had received certificates of completion from one of them.
“I think the opioid thing is real. I know he committed burglary,” said the grandfather. “I’m relying on what the Court gives him. We have good people here, the district attorney and the judge, and I know it will be just and fair. I will still love David, and I think he’s clean today.”