BROOKHAVEN, Miss. (AP) — A grand jury can decide whether to indict a Mississippi man charged with killing a deputy, his mother-in-law and six others who were his relatives or acquaintances, a judge said Wednesday.
Willie Cory Godbolt, 35, remains jailed without bond as he has been since his arrest May 28, shortly after the fatal shootings that started after witnesses say Godbolt was arguing with his estranged wife.
The killings May 27 and 28 occurred at three homes in and around the south Mississippi city of Brookhaven, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Jackson. A deputy responded to a disturbance call at Godbolt's in-laws' home, and the shootings started there.
Deputy William Durr, Godbolt's mother-in-law Barbara Mitchell and two others were killed at the first home. Two cousins, an 11-year-old and an 18-year-old, were killed at the second home. A husband and wife were slain at the third home.
Judge Bryan Harbour heard testimony Wednesday from a state law enforcement officer who helped investigate at two of the three houses. Jason Leggett, the officer from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, which is part of the Highway Patrol, identified Godbolt as the suspect in all of the killings.
"I find that the state has successfully convinced me that eight crimes were committed and that Mr. Godbolt committed those crimes," the judge said, though he noted the probable cause hearing was not a trial.
There was a heavy police presence at the hearing and about 50 friends and relatives of the victims packed the courtroom. One teenage girl started crying when a shackled Godbolt walked in. Though he wore an orange jail jumpsuit to the courthouse, he had on a yellow golf shirt and khaki pants during the hearing. Most of the audience sat quietly. Godbolt showed no emotion.
He is charged with one count of capital murder, which could carry the death penalty, in the deputy's killing. He's also charged with seven counts of murder, which could carry life without parole.
"This was just a preliminary hearing. We have a long, long way to go," one of Godbolt's defense attorneys, Paul Luckett, said after court.
Outside the courtroom after the hearing Wednesday, Shon Blackwell said he and his family have been seeking comfort in God since his son, 18-year-old Jordan Blackwell, was killed at the second home.
"We just keep praying. That's what's been carrying us," said Blackwell, an assistant pastor at a Missionary Baptist church attended by many of the victims.
Moments after he was arrested May 28, a handcuffed Godbolt told a reporter from The Clarion-Ledger, on video, that someone in the first house called law enforcement while he was talking to his wife and in-laws about his wish to take his children home.
"My pain wasn't designed for him. He was just there," Godbolt said of the deputy.
Godbolt also said in the video: "My intentions was to have God kill me. I ran out of bullets. Suicide by cop was my intention. I ain't fit to live, not after what I done."
This story has been corrected to show a total of eight people were killed.
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .