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3 Mississippi men could face death in killing of witness

July 2, 2018 GMT

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Three Mississippi men could face the death penalty if they’re convicted of conspiring to kill a police informant who witnessed drug dealing that had already led to criminal charges.

Authorities say one of the defendants coordinated the conspiracy from jail.

An indictment filed June 27 accuses 26-year-old Aubrey Maurice Jordan, 39-year-old Monroe L. Hughes III and 26-year-old Cortez Lakeith Byrd of conspiring to kill Anton Ford. All the men are Meridian residents.

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The indictment says Jordan shot Ford in the neck outside JR’s Lounge, also known as the Just Friends club, on March 10. Ford did not die until May 27. Before he died of complications from the gunshot wound, court papers say Ford identified Jordan as the shooter and said he saw Hughes in a car outside the Meridian bar.

Jordan was previously charged in state court in Lauderdale County with attempted murder after Ford was shot, The Meridian Star reports.

“Mr. Jordan has entered a plea of not guilty and he emphatically denies the allegations made against him in the indictment,” lawyer Scott Gilbert wrote in an email, saying Jordan looks forward to challenging the government’s evidence at trial.

Byrd has also pleaded not guilty.

Hughes and Byrd had been indicted in April on charges of selling the drug ecstasy. In a sworn statement, Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Kimberly Dearman says Ford was an informant who participated in a $200 drug buy from Hughes in September and $200 drug buy from Byrd in October, all while officers of the East Mississippi Drug Task Force were recording video and audio of the sale.

Prosecutors cite recorded phone calls Byrd made from jail to Hughes and others as proof of the conspiracy, saying Byrd was coordinating Ford’s assassination in coded language. In a March 8 telephone call, Hughes is alleged to have told Byrd that “Everything good. ... Listen to me, what’s understood don’t need to be explained.”

In a March 10 phone call, hours before the shooting, Byrd is alleged to have told his girlfriend Jacarria Gordon to not go to the bar where Ford would be shot.

“Somebody gone get shot down there,” prosecutors say Byrd told Gordon.

Moments later, prosecutors say Byrd told Gordon that he didn’t want Gordon to be close to “dude,” because “I got some plans for somebody else to bump into him. That make sense?”

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Hughes and Byrd were re-indicted June 27, while Jordan was indicted for the first time. Jordan and Byrd appeared before a federal magistrate judge Friday and were ordered to remain in jail without bail. Hughes is currently jailed and is scheduled to appear before a judge Tuesday in Jackson.

Besides the possible death penalty charges in Ford’s death, Hughes faces up to 100 years in prison on the drug charges, while Byrd faces up to 60 years in prison.

A lawyer for Hughes said he had no information in the case. A lawyer for Byrd didn’t immediately respond Monday to emails seeking comment.

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An earlier version of this story has been corrected to show only Cortez Byrd is accused of making phone calls from jail, while Hughes was not jailed at the time.

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Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy . Read his work at https://www.apnews.com/search/By%20Jeff%20Amy .