Accused MS Highway Shooter Faces Death Penalty

Accused MS Highway Shooter Faces Death Penalty

It's been over a year since two people were murdered on Mississippi's highways. James Willie will go on trial for the murders next month.
DESOTO COUNTY, MS (localmemphis.com) -- It's been over a year since two people were murdered on Mississippi's highways. It was the case that gripped the Mid-South, and the nation, for weeks as investigators wondered if a serial killer was impersonating a police officer.

James Willie will go on trial for the murders next month. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

They've been building their case for months. Willie's accused of murdering two people and raping a third victim. If convicted, he could be put to death.

"You're innocent until proven guilty. Sometimes you're guilty until proven innocent," James Willie spoke to us as he left court last September.

His murder trial starts next month. Willie faces the death penalty for the murder of 74-year old Thomas Schlender from Nebraska. Schlender was shot and killed last May while driving down Interstate 55 in Panola County.

"After consulting with the family and law enforcement, we felt this case fit the mold for a death penalty case," says District Attorney John Champion. "The death occurred during the commission of another felony. We have alleged in the indictment the other felony was robbery."

Champion has worked this case from the beginning. He says Schlender's family will be traveling from Nebraska for the trial.

Just days after Schlender's murder, Lori Anne Carswell, a Tunica casino worker, was shot and killed. She was found near her car on Mississippi Highway 713 in Tunica County.

Investigators warned the public to be cautious while driving, worried the killer was impersonating a police officer.

Willie was arrested for both murders in May 2012. Tunica County sheriff investigators matched a gun Willie's accused of firing during a sexual assault to the murder weapon.

The assault and Carswell's murder in Tunica County will be tried separately. "Those will go this fall," says Champion.

The trial for Schlender's murder starts August 12th in Batesville.

Willie is being represented by a local public defender and a defense attorney from Jackson. Both specialize in death penalty cases.
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