CANTON, Miss. (AP) — The man accused in a Mississippi courthouse shooting was arrested in June on a felony charge of aggravated assault with a weapon after a fistfight, contradicting earlier statements by police that the suspect had never before been in serious trouble.
On Tuesday, Gwendolyn Miles, deputy court clerk in Canton's municipal court, confirmed the charge against 24-year-old William B. Wells. As a felony, it was sent to Madison County Circuit Court, she said.
Wells was involved in a fistfight at his home June 28 and fired a gun into the ground, said Madison County District Attorney Michael Guest. The prosecutor didn't know who else was involved in that fight or whether anyone else was arrested. Canton Police Chief Otha Brown did not return calls seeking comment.
Guest said he had not heard of the felony aggravated assault charge until an Associated Press reporter brought it to his attention Tuesday. He said he intends to examine the Canton police file on Wednesday to determine whether that case should be presented to a grand jury.
Wells is accused of fatally shooting a defendant outside the county courthouse in Canton on Monday. He has been charged with murder and his bail was set at $300,000 on Tuesday. Officials are investigating whether Wells was retaliating for the Saturday shooting of his mother, Sherry Wells, who had been scheduled to testify against the defendant, Kendrick Armond Brown. Sherry Wells survived.
Kendrick Brown, who was facing felony cocaine charges, could have faced up to life in prison under Mississippi's three strikes habitual offender law because of two earlier felony drug convictions.
Municipal court documents show Wells pleaded guilty on July 1 to a misdemeanor charge of firing a gun inside city limits. That charge stemmed from the fight, Guest said. Wells was sentenced to six months' unsupervised probation on the gun charge, paying $512.75 in fines and court costs. He was free on $50,000 bail on the assault charges, Miles said.
It was unclear whether either case or the conditions of his earlier bail should have prevented Wells from possessing a firearm. A semiautomatic handgun was used in Monday's shooting.
No records of the charge appeared in a Monday search of circuit court records by The Associated Press, not surprising since Wells hasn't been indicted. Prosecutors could also decide to drop the charge.
The AP found the charge after Wells told Madison County Justice Court Judge Mamie Chinn during his bail hearing that he had been convicted of a charge in Canton.
Guest expressed surprise that there was no record of Wells being processed through the Madison County Jail on the assault charge. He said Canton police allowed Wells to post bail at the police station, which Guest described as "extremely out of the ordinary on such a serious charge."
Wells, a former Canton firefighter, told Chinn that he works for M-Tek, a company that makes interior trim for Nissan Motor Co.'s Canton assembly plant. He said he is engaged to be married.
Chinn described the charge against Wells as "serious," but agreed to set bail, warning Wells not to have any contact with others involved in the case, saying she was concerned for "the safety and security of all involved" considering the allegations of retaliation.
John Christopher, a lawyer who was representing Wells, did not object to the bond amount following the hearing, saying it was "totally within the judge's discretion." He declined comment on the allegations against Wells, saying he had just been hired.
Kentravious Brooks, who attended Tuesday's hearing, described himself as a close friend of Wells since childhood.
"I hate to see it," Brooks said. "He's a young cat, smart."
The 25-year-old Brooks said he would stand by Wells, but said he could understand the possibility that Wells might have been angered by his mother's shooting.
"To try to kill your mama, I mean...," Brooks said.
This story has been corrected to show that the middle initial of suspect William Wells is B., not A.
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