Enough evidence has been unearthed to charge two men with capital murder and kidnapping and seven others with various crimes related to a corpse found anchaored to the bottom of a pond on a farm in the Hope community over Valentine’s Day weekend.

The two Neshoba County men, James Kelly and Tyrone Braxton, have been charged with kidnapping and capital murder along with seven other conspirators charged with crimes that range from conspiracy to commit capital murder to hindering prosecutors.




“They have all been before a judge,” Neshoba County Sheriff Eric Clark said. “Some have already bonded out but a few in the mix were denied bond.”

That number includes Kelly, 23, and Braxton, 22, both of whom live in a rural part of the county near the Hope community.

The nine individuals arrested were:

• James Kelly, 23, of 10091 Road 2642, charged with kidnapping and capital murder.

• Tyrone Braxton, 22, of 10061 Road 1355, charged with kidnapping and capital murder.

• Joanna Brook Gilmer, 26, of 12132 BIA 0241, charged with conspiracy to commit capital murder.

• Alexandria Bell, 25, of 11500 Highway 482 Lot 5, charged with conspiracy to commit capital murder.

• Terry Crocker, 55, of 11500 Highway 482 Lot 5, charged with hindering prosecution-rendering criminal assistance.

• Alexa Johnson, 18, of 8114 Old Highway 494, Collinsville, charged with hindering prosecution-rendering criminal assistance. 

• Justus Barfield, 25, of 10461 Road 545, charged with accessory after the fact. 

• Ian C. Thompson, 24, of 13340 Highway 488, charged with accessory after the fact.

• Tyree Smith, 24, of 10061 Road 1335, charged with hindering prosecution-rendering criminal assistance.

Though he was denied bond for his capital murder charge, Braxton received a $600 bond for a simple assault charge, $10,000 for a grand larceny charge, $25,000 for hindering prosecution, $250,000 for the kidnapping charge and another $25,000 for tampering with evidence.

Kelly was outright denied bond.



Thompson and Barfield received a $50,000 bond, while Gilmer and Bell received $25,000 bonds. Crocker and Johnson are being held on $5,600 and $5,000 bonds, respectively.

Though the body was not found until Saturday, Feb. 15, jail docket records show the investigation dates back to at least mid-January. Kelly was brought in on an investigation hold on the evening of Jan. 17 and released a little over two hours later with no charges. He was brought in again on Jan. 26.

Around 7 p.m. on Jan. 22, Investigator Derek Wyatt brought Braxton in on capital murder and kidnapping charges.

Investigators charged Alexa Johnson with hindering prosectors on Jan. 22. She was released two days later on a $5,000 bond.

Smith was brought in the evening of January 22 as well.

Crocker was held for three hours on Jan. 24, before being released without charges.

Neshoba County Sheriff’s deputies and Mississippi Bureau of Investigation agents executed a search warrant to drain the farm pond off of Highway 488 on Friday, Feb. 14. 

Investigators used pumps to draw the water down under the supervision of Neshoba County Coroner John Stephens. 

The process started around 8 a.m. Friday morning and continued until Saturday morning when the water level lowered to the point where investigators discovered the partly decomposed body weighted down for concealment.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, the Philadelphia Fire Department, Neshoba County Emergency Management, Linwood and North Bend volunteer fire departments and the Philadelphia Police Department assisted in the investigation and recovery.

The identity of the victim is being withheld until it can be confirmed by the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Jackson. Sheriff Clark said that he had not received confirmation from the medical examiner as of Tuesday.

A statement from Clark’s office asked that anyone with information on the ongoing investigation come forward.

“We are continuing to investigate this case and will release information as it becomes available,” it said. “We encourage anyone with information on any Neshoba County crimes to contact Neshoba County Sheriff’s Office at 601-656-1414 or 855-485-TIPS (8477) for anonymous tips.“

Last week Clark warned of the dangers of believing rumors unconfirmed by his office.

“Nothing from the Coroner,” he said said via text message, responding to various unconfirmed media reports. “Rumors equal poor news coverage.”

It is still unclear how the other seven individuals fit into the alleged scheme, but several of the nine suspects in custody have histories with the law.

In September 2015, Gilmer, then 21, was indicted for conspiring to rob a convenience store at which she worked — Scotty Vowel’s Lakeside Country Store — with her boyfriend, Nicholas Rush. 

In April of that year, Chief Investigator Ralph Sciple identified Kelly, then 18 years old, as the getaway driver in the robbery.

Though the money was never recovered, it was believed to exceed $5,000 in total.




Rush later confessed to the crime, implicating Gilmer and Kelly. Scapula said at the time that he was initially suspicious of Gilmer due to her demeanor. This led him to question those close to her.

Thompson was arrested as a teenager in March of 2015 for possession of paraphernalia and possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle. In the same docket, Barfield’s name appears for “social hosting.” Barfield was also arrested in 2013 on a warrant for simple assault and harassment.

Smith was arrested when he was 18 for aggravated assault in connection with the shooting of a Brutarius Talley, then 21. Reports from the time say that Talley was shot one time in the calf of the right leg by a 9mm handgun. Investigators at the time said Smith claimed self-defense and noted that the wound was non life-threatening. That incident reportedly stemmed from a “heated dispute over a family issue” at Talley’s residence. Smith turned himself in.

Smith served a couple other stretches in the Neshoba County Jail, including one arrest for simple assault and failure to appear in court  in 2015 and again on one count of false pretense in November of 2018.

Jail records show Braxton had previously been brought in when he was 18 in 2015 for disorderly conduct and two counts of aggravated assault with a weapon in April of last year.