By Holbrook Mohr
JACKSON – A woman charged with leading the plot to kidnap a 6-year-old girl from an east Mississippi elementary school will use insanity as her defense in the case, according to a document filed Thursday in federal court.
The child was taken from East Kemper Elementary School on April 30 and turned up unharmed on a rural road in Enterprise the next day.
The woman who authorities say orchestrated the plan, Jesse Mae Brown Pollard, and her son, Devonta Pollard, a former basketball player at the University of Alabama, are among seven people charged in the case.
Abby Brumley, Jesse Pollard’s lawyer, had no comment Thursday other than to say that that the defense during the trial scheduled to begin Nov. 18 will be that Jesse Pollard “was insane at the time of the offense.”
Authorities said Jesse Pollard came up with the plan to pressure the child’s mother, Pollard’s cousin, in a land dispute, though details of the fight were not spelled out in the court record.
Devonta Pollard’s lawyer, Lisa Ross, said earlier this week that her client “never conspired to kidnap anyone” and plans to fight the charges.
The five others are expected to plead guilty during a hearing Wednesday.
They were all indicted in June on conspiracy charges, but at least two of them, Joyce Johnigan and James Shurmon Johnigan, may plead guilty to the lesser offenses of withholding information on a felony, according to court documents. Joyce and James Johnigan’s lesser offenses were listed Wednesday in court documents called bills of criminal information, usually filed when someone plans to plead guilty to a charge.
The Johnigan’s daughter, Shaquayla Johnigan, Wanda Faye Dancy, a secretary at the school, and Shamarius Ruffin, who is accused of taking the girl from the school, are also expected to plead guilty next week, but it’s not clear to what charges.
Authorities say Dancy told Pollard what the girl was wearing that day and where to find her, in the school library. Ruffin went to get the child, telling the librarian that she had stopped in the school office and talked to Dancy about picking her up, the indictment said.
Prosecutors said Pollard and Ruffin drove the child to a hotel in Bessemer, Ala., then went to a nearby store where Pollard bought a cellphone. Pollard used the phone to text the child’s mother a message that read: “don’t call the police I will call you later if you call the police u won’t see her again,” the indictment said.
At some point, Devonta Pollard drove to Boligee, Ala., to pick up Shaquayla Johnigan and told her that Jesse Pollard “took” the child, the indictment said. Investigators say he drove Shaquayla Johnigan to meet Jesse Pollard.
Shaquayla Johnigan took the child and a rental car from Jesse Pollard and drove to a hotel in Laurel, Miss., where she sent a text message from the same phone to tell the child’s mother: “since you called police, I want $50,000 by 3 p.m., I will tell you location later,” according to the indictment.
The next day, after a missing child alert had been issued about the girl, Devonta Pollard allegedly called Shaquayla Johnigan to say his mother “had gone to take a polygraph.”
Shaquayla Johnigan called Joyce Johnigan, identified in court records as her stepmother, and asked to meet in Vossburg, Miss. After meeting, the two then dropped off the girl, unharmed, near a stranger’s mobile home in Enterprise, Miss., telling the child that “her mom was in the trailer and to run up to it,” the indictment said.
Shaquayla Johnigan drove the car into a ditch in Jasper County and left it there, then later gave a gym bag containing the phone to James Johnigan, who burned it, according to court records.
James Johnigan’s lawyer, Thomas Brame Jr., said earlier this week that his client had “a very minor role in this unfortunate situation” after his daughter called him for help.
Ruffin’s lawyer declined earlier this week to comment. The others’ lawyers haven’t responded to messages.