Kemper County, Miss. Bond was set Wednesday for two of the four new suspects charged in connection with a kidnapping in Kemper County. Devonta Pollard, age 18; 39-year-old James Johnigan; 42-year-old Joyce Johnigan and 21-year-old Shaquayla Johnigan each made an initial appearance in federal court. All are charged with conspiracy in the case.
The total number of people now charged in connection with the April 30, 2013, kidnapping stands at seven, and at least 5 of those are related to each other.
The most recent arrests include the son of the alleged mastermind of the crime, Jessie Mae Pollard. Her son, Devonta, is on the basketball team at the University of Alabama and a former Kemper County standout.
"Devonta had knowledge before, during and after the kidnapping," says Kemper County Sheriff James Moore.
Investigators say 54-year-old Jessie Mae Pollard orchestrated the crime. According to Sheriff Moore, much like Devonta, 21-year-old Shaquayla Johnigan got involved before, during, and after the kidnapping of Jashayla Hopson. The six-year-old was taken from East Kemper Elementary, and found safe a day later at a house where she wandered to in neighboring Lauderdale County.
Sheriff Moore says Shaquayla's parents, 39-year-old James Johnigan and his wife, 42-year-old Joyce, got involved after discovering that their daughter was associated with the kidnapping. According to the sheriff, James Johnigan is Jessie Mae Pollard's nephew.
"She got a lot of people involved and it's just amazing that she had that much control over so many people," Moore said.
According to Sheriff Moore, the motive for the kidnapping was a dispute over one acre of land in Porterville. In the past Jessie Mae Pollard had a house on the site, but we're told that it burned. Pollard ultimately lost the property in a land sale. At that point it was purchased by her first cousin, who is the kidnapped child's mother.
"It's very complex because you're talking about a lot of family members involved in something and even the victim is a family member. Again, this is a very crazy case," said Moore.
At this time Sheriff Moore says no other charges are expected to be filed against the accused, and that no other arrests are expected to be made. However, with the investigation ongoing, he says this could change.
The Kemper County Sheriff's Department is working with the FBI and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations on all of the suspects' cases. All of them are being handled in federal court.
Wanda Dancy, 52, of DeKalb,and Shamarius Ruffin, 25, or Porterville, were also previously charged in the case.
Meanwhile, Devonta Pollard and James Johnigan were both released on $10,000 bond Wednesday.
As for Shaquayla and Joyce Johnigan, both remain in federal custody and will appear before a judge for a detention hearing next Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.
All seven of are set to stand trial in federal court Aug. 6.
If convicted each of the defendants, except Jessie Mae Pollard, faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If found guilty, Jessie Mae Pollard faces a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $750,000 fine.
The U.S. Attorney's Office issued a news release about the case and laid out the scenario of events it believed happened. The information below is from the news release:
"According to the indictment, Jessie Mae Brown decided to kidnap Jashayla Hopson from East Kemper Elementary School. She contacted Wanda Faye Dancy, who worked at East Kemper Elementary School as a secretary, who agreed to assist Jessie Mae Brown Pollard with the kidnapping. On April 30, 2013, Jessie Mae Brown Pollard and Shamarious S. Ruffin traveled to East Kemper Elementary School in a car rented by Jessie Mae Brown Pollard. Pollard called Wanda Faye Dancy to determine the location of Jashayla Hopson within the school building. Dancy said Jashayla was in the library and described the clothing she was wearing. Dancy’s instructions were for Ruffin to go into the library and tell the librarian that “Miss Wanda said it was alright”. Ruffin went into the school library, gave the librarian Dancy’s message, and took Jashayla Hopson. Ruffin returned to the car with the child. Jessie Mae Brown Pollard then drove them to Bessemer, Alabama, where they checked into a hotel. Later, Jessie Mae Brown Pollard and Shamarious S. Ruffin went to a store in Bessemer and purchased a cell phone. Pollard activated the phone and sent the following text message to Jashayla’s mother: “don’t call the police I will call you later if you call the police u won’t see her again.”
Meanwhile, Jessie Mae Brown Pollard’s son, Devonta Pollard, drove to Boligee, Alabama, picked up Shaquayla S. Johnigan, and took her to meet Jessie Mae Brown Pollard. Pollard then gave the child, Jashayla Hopson, to Johnigan, who took Pollard’s rental car and traveled to Laurel, Mississippi where she checked into a hotel room. Later, Jessie Mae Brown Pollard called Johnigan and told her to send a text message to Jashayla’s mother from the cell phone, which was still in the rental car, stating “since you called police, I want $50,000 by 3 p.m., I will tell you location later.” The following day, Shaquayla S. Johnigan received a call from Devonta Pollard stating that Jessie Mae Brown Pollard was “gone to take a polygraph.” Shaquayla S. Johnigan called Joyce M. Johnigan who agreed to meet her in Vossburg, Mississippi. Together, Shaquayla S. Johnigan and Joyce M. Johnigan drove Jashayla Hopson to a remote location in East Central Mississippi and dropped her off near an unknown residence telling her that “her mom was in the trailer and to run up to it”. Jessie Mae Pollard called Shaquayla S. Johnigan and told her to take the rental car to the USM campus and leave it, but instead she and Joyce Johnigan drove it into a ditch and threw the keys into a pond. Shaquayla S. Johnigan gave the black gym back containing the broken cell phone to James Shurman Johnigan and told him to “get rid of it”. She also threw the key to the Laurel hotel room in the garbage. James Shurman Johnigan burned the black gym bag containing the broken Samsung phone. The trial in this case is set for August 6, 2013, before United States District Judge William H. Barbour, Jr. The public is reminded that an indictment is merely an accusation and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty."