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Senator: Parole board creating dangerous pattern of releasing murderers

Cindy Lassiter Mangum Williams holding her son, Zeno, was killed by James Williams III in 2001 (Photo courtesy of Zeno Mangum)

Less than two weeks remain before the release of double-murderer James Williams III, who was initially sentenced to serve two life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Williams, set to be released on May 16, was convicted in 2002 of brutally killing his father and stepmother before cutting up their bodies and dumping them near Shiloh Park in Brandon. He was 17 at the time of the crime.

After undergoing a “moral rehabilitation” that included attaining a GED and working as a Christian minister, members of the parole board informed the victims’ family – all of which are against his release – last month that they had decided to grant Williams parole.

Senator Angela Hill, who chairs the County Affairs Committee and serves as vice chair of the Accountability, Efficiency, and Transparency Committee, said that it isn’t the first time that the parole board has approved the release of a “rehabilitated” double-murderer within the past year.

“This is something that is recent. Frederick Bell was one of these and now we have another one,” Hill said. “It’s just become a pattern of very early parole for these people who have committed these heinous crimes and heinous murders.”

Frederick Bell, who was a Grenada man convicted of murdering two people in May 1991, was nearly granted parole in October 2022 after the board claimed that he had also been “rehabilitated.” At the time, Bell had already served 31 years in prison.

Hill attributed the decisions to the new chairman of Mississippi’s parole board, Jeffrey Belk. The Gulf Coast native was appointed to the position in January 2022 after the previous chairman, Steven Pickett, retired one month prior.

“This parole board seems to have a pattern under this new chairman that as soon as that 10 years is up, as soon as that minimum sentence is up, they’re cutting them loose,” Hill stated. “And yet, we have people who are getting set off and are not getting out that have much less violent or sinister convictions. It leaves people scratching their heads.”

Hill explained that Williams’ family spoke with the parole board during a conference call over one week ago, but no changes have been made to his release date at this time.

“It appears with the chairman’s direction with this parole board that things have changed since I’ve been in the legislature because prior to this chairman and this board, victims’ opposition was strongly considered,” Hill said. “I never ever had family members contact me begging for help because the parole board would not listen to their opposition and their concern for their own safety.”

Neither Belk nor Governor Tate Reeves have responded to requests for comment.

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