Shooting on school grounds is a capital offense in Mississippi; Law passed following 1997 Pearl High shooting

Mississippi Attorney recalls fights for school shooter legislation
Mississippi Attorney recalls fights for school shooter legislation
Published: May. 26, 2022 at 11:12 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - It’s been two days since a gunman walked into a Texas elementary school and opened fire, killing at least 21 people, 19 children, and two adults.

For Attorney Richard Schwartz, his mind goes back to the deadly shooting that happened at Pearl High School in October of 1997.

That morning, the gunman, Luke Woodham, murdered his mother, then went into the school killing two students and shooting and injuring seven others.

Lydia Dew and Christina Menefee, who was said to be Woodham’s ex-girlfriend, were the two students killed. Schwartz represented Menefee’s family.

“I remember the Menefee family and how hard it was on them and how difficult,” said Schwartz, president of Schwartz & Associates, P.A. “I can’t imagine a family going through this. It is the most difficult thing you can imagine.”

But out of this pain, Schwartz gained a new purpose. He set out to change the state’s law that would result in capital punishment if a gunman shoots someone on school property.

At that time to get a capital offense and potentially the death penalty, it protected police officers, politicians, which should be protected, and even prisoners were protected, but no children were protected, and it didn’t make any sense,” Schwartz explained. The attorney admits, he ran into some hurdles during this process.”We had trouble with our state legislature in passing that law so we went national,” the attorney recalled. “We went Geraldo (Rivera), we went on Sally (Jessy) Raphael, we went on Lisa Givens, and made it a national issue.”

He said lawmakers initially had questions about the proposed legislation. But after a year of urging lawmakers and continuing to speak out on this issue, It officially became law in 1998.

“If you shoot someone on educational grounds it’s a capital offense, subject to the death penalty as a deterrent to make sure that no one else does it,” said Schwartz. “I want people who even would think about something that bad to understand that if they get caught, they could be subject to the death penalty in the state of Mississippi, that’s not necessarily true in any of the other states.”Since this law has been on the books, Schwartz said he doesn’t know of any other school shooting that’s taken place in the state, and he believes this legislation is a big reason why.

Following the recent school shooting in Texas, the longtime attorney said he’d like to see other states craft similar laws.” I think it should be a nationwide issue in making it a capital punishment,” said Schwartz. “It may not stop everything but even if it stops one (school shooting, it’s well worth it.”

Woodham was not prosecuted under this law since it wasn’t on the books when the crime happened. As a result, he is eligible for parole in 2046.

He’ll be 65 years old.

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