A Mississippi man was formally cleared of a longstanding capital murder charge over the death of his daughter on Monday.
According to court documents obtained by Laurel, Miss. NBC/ABC affiliate WDAM, 22nd Circuit Court Assistant District Attorney Patrick E. Beasley filed a motion to dismiss the case against Morris Bevily on Friday, June 3, 2022, citing insufficient evidence to prosecute.
That motion was approved by a judge in Claiborne County on Monday, June 6, 2022, according to Jackson, Miss. NBC affiliate WLBT.
“We had agreed with the state that they didn’t have any evidence to prove guilt of Morris Bevily in this case and the case should be dismissed, and the judge agreed and dismissed the case,” defense attorney Tom Fortner said during a brief press conference after the charges against his client were dropped.
Bevily said he felt “thankful” to have the ordeal over and described the end of his years-long legal battle as a “blessing from the Lord.”
The now-former defendant also thanked his wife, family, friends, and attorneys for their steadfast support throughout the process.
“It was just an overall great feeling that we can kind of begin to deal with some of the losses,” Bevily went on. “And, overall, begin to grieve us losing a child. Myself, my wife, family, friends, we all lost somebody special in this, throughout the situation, and haven’t been able to do that as much. So, I’m just thankful for the opportunity to move forward, on with our lives, and be able to do that.”
Bevily’s daughter, 14-month-old Jurayah Smith, died in late 2017.
In late 2019, Morris Bevily and his wife T’Kia Bevily, Jurayah’s stepmother, turned themselves in after being charged with capital murder.
T’Kia Bevily was afterwards tried twice for the baby girl’s death.
The first trial, in Claiborne County, resulted in a conviction. T’Kia Bevily appealed her conviction and sentence because a relative of the deceased child was a member of the jury who did not disclose his relationship. The re-trial was then moved to Monroe County, some four hours away, because the defense argued that the original setting would have precluded against the defendant receiving a fair trial.
Investigators and prosecutors alleged that Smith died of blunt force trauma to the head that was sustained while she was with the couple on the day in question. During the second trial, the state offered a narrative that the woman’s motive for killing the girl was because taking care of the child stood in the way of her “American dream.”
The defense disputed all of that.
Expert testimony muddied the waters as to the child’s cause of death–with two doctors telling the jurors that a skull fracture sustained by the girl was likely too old to have caused her death. Defense attorney Dennis Sweet said the stepmother wanted to care for Jurayah Smith–that she was happy to be able to support her husband and his family. The defense also raised questions about the timeline of the girl’s alleged blunt force injuries and who might have actually caused them, pointing out that at least 10 other people were around the girl immediately before the Bevilys picked her up on the day she died.
Those efforts by the defense were enough.
T’Kia Bevily was acquitted last month.
“When I heard Judge Irving say ‘not guilty,’ I was kind of in shock a little bit,” she told WLBT. “And then when it really hit me, I broke down.”
Now, less than a month later, the charge against Morris Bevily has been dismissed.
He said the allegations were a “struggle” and that the reputational damage he and his wife suffered was “difficult to deal with.” He also described the case against them both as “slander.”
“Today is the end,” Morris Bevily’s other defense attorney Anthony Heidelberg said. “He can say, in his heart, ‘I’m free from all this. I’m done with all this. And I’m moving forward from all of this.”
While a significant victory, there is one caveat.
The husband’s case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning prosecutors could choose to re-file charges against him in the future.
[Images via screengrab/WLBT]
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