OXFORD, Miss.—“Come back,” Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr. said to Jimmie “Jay” Lee via Snapchat in the early morning hours of Friday, July 8, court documents presented at Herrington’s Tuesday, Aug. 9, bond hearing in Oxford show. Lee, a University of Mississippi student who would’ve finished his undergraduate degree this summer has been missing since that morning.
Prosecutors say Lee had blocked Herrington, a UM graduate from Grenada, on more than one social-media account after a falling-out that same morning, but Herrington persisted. He was contacting Lee from a Snapchat account Lee did not recognize, with the username redeye_24, the hearing revealed.
“You coming or nah?” Herrington asked in the July 8 message log.
“No,” Lee replied.
“Why not?” Herrington said.
“??,” Herrington said three minutes later, with no reply from Lee between his messages.
“Yeah now it just seems like you tryna lure me over there to beat my ass or something,” Lee said at 5:35 a.m., following an explanation as to why he did not want to see Herrington again sexually. The conversation shows Lee was concerned that Herrington may have exposed him to a sexually transmitted infection.
Despite the distrust, Lee agreed to return to Herrington’s apartment in a 5:54 a.m. message.
Prosecutors told the court that Lee did not leave there alive. In response to the evidence presented, Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge Gray Tollison denied Herrington, 22, bail for the alleged murder of Lee after hours of testimony yesterday.
‘How Long Does It Take to Strangle Someone?’
“How long does it take to strangle someone Gabby Petito” are words Herrington typed into a Google search at 5:56 a.m. on Friday, July 8, less than five minutes after Lee agreed to meet him, Oxford Police Department Detective Ryan Baker said in his Aug. 9 testimony in the Lafayette County Courthouse.
Then, Herrington typed in “Does pre workout boost testosterone” just a minute later, Baker said, detailing information found via a warrant for Herrington’s Macbook.
At 6:49 a.m. that day, Herrington bought a roll of duct tape—and only duct tape—at Walmart, as shown on the self-checkout security-camera footage displayed in court. Before checkout, other Walmart cameras captured Herrington looking at rolling garbage cans, Baker added.
Assistant District Attorney Tiffany Kilpatrick walked Baker through more than a dozen exhibits of evidence documenting Lee’s and Herrington’s activities that day, with their Snapchat conversation entered as State Exhibit 9.
Kilpatrick showed surveillance footage of Lee’s car at 7:18 a.m. on Friday, July 8, heading east on Jackson Avenue, at 7:21 a.m. at the intersection of Jackson Avenue and Rebel Drive, at 7:33 a.m. on Molly Barr Road from surveillance camera footage from CB Webb and, finally, at 7:25 a.m. entering Molly Barr Trails apartments from the complex’s own security footage.
A few minutes later, a petite man in a gray hoodie with a long-sleeve t-shirt wrapped around his head and neck, blocking his face, ran from the apartment complex to the road. He does not appear on camera jogging into the apartment complex, which has one entrance/exit.
At 7:41 a.m. cameras at a nearby gas station picked up the man again, where he got into a white Kia Optima and the driver took off. Minutes later, the Oxford Police Department stopped the car for a traffic infraction. The prosecution showed OPD’s body-camera footage to the court.
Herrington flagged down the car’s driver, Baker testified, because he recognized it as the vehicle of a friend from high school, although the friend’s boyfriend was driving it at the time. The driver of that car identified Herrington to police on Friday, July 22, as the man he gave a ride to on the morning of Friday, July 8.
An Unscheduled Trip to Grenada
Herrington, partial owner of T & T Moving Co., retrieved his company’s box truck from the parking lot at the Links Apartment Complex during the early morning hours of Friday, July 8, Baker told the court.
Herrington did not inform his business partner, Tyson King, that he would be taking the truck that day; the company calendar King provided to investigators showed no scheduled moves for Friday, July 8, Baker said.
Security footage from 10:45 a.m. shows Herrington driving the white box truck to his parents’ home in Grenada, Miss., where he made two trips between his family home and the truck.
On the first trip, he brought a full-sized shovel and, on the second, he brought a wheelbarrow. Prosecutors did not produce evidence Tuesday as to where Herrington went after retrieving the tools from his family home, when he returned the tools or when he returned to Oxford.
When law enforcement retrieved the truck from Tyson King in Hattiesburg almost a month after Lee’s disappearance, only a trash can and moving blankets were in the back.
Cadaver dogs—animals trained to detect the presence of human remains or decomposition—alerted on the moving blankets, on the trash can and on the driver’s seat area, Baker said. When investigators retrieved the tools from the Herrington family home, dogs alerted on the wheelbarrow as well.
A Case without a Body
Stephanie Lee was the first witness to take the stand in the Aug. 9 bond and preliminary hearing for Herrington, accused of murdering her youngest child.
Jay Lee and his mother were as close as two people could be while still living more than 150 miles apart, she described. They tracked each other’s locations via Find My iPhone, and Lee called her many mornings on her 45-minute-long commute to work, she said. They spoke five to six times each day.
On the morning of Friday, July 8, Stephanie Lee woke up to a birthday message from her son, sent at around 2 a.m.. At around 7 a.m., she replied with a “:)” to let him know she was awake.
After not hearing from him for a few hours, Stephanie Lee checked her son’s location on Find My iPhone and, for the first time, his location was unavailable.
Lee and her husband made their way to Biloxi for her planned birthday celebration, but after not hearing from their son by morning they decided to leave to Oxford. They called in a wellness check, where University of Mississippi Police found their son’s apartment door ajar and his dog still inside. They asked a friend of his they knew to check as well, with no luck finding their son or his car.
“No way on earth Jay would go 30 days without communicating with me,” Lee’s mother said in her Tuesday, Aug. 9, testimony. “Not even two days.”
Herrington’s defense attorney, Kevin Horan of Horan & Horan, cross-examined Lee’s mother.
Horan asked if their family paid for any of their son’s social media, how often she checked his location and if she had heard of any trace evidence of her son’s death.
“Jay wouldn’t allow his phone to die,” Lee’s mother said, adding that their family paid his phone bills.
Detective’s Interview with Herrington
Det. Baker, alongside Oxford Police Lt. Shane Fortner, approached Herrington’s Building 5 apartment on Friday, July 22, and knocked.
Herrington asked them to excuse the mess in his apartment, saying that he is moving to Dallas soon, and agreed to go with them to talk at the police station where he waived his right to legal counsel. The waiver appears as state Exhibit 10, and the video of the conversation that followed is Exhibit 11.
Assistant District Attorney Kilpatrick played the interview for the court, beginning the tape 17 minutes into Herrington’s conversation with Baker and Fortner.
Herrington told investigators that the relationship between himself and Lee was “just a sexual thing,” saying they had hooked up three or four times.
The suspect confirmed that he and Lee got into an argument in the early hours of Friday, July 8. He logged into a Snapchat account that did not include his name in the username to contact Lee while blocked. Herrington could not recall all of his social-media handles, he said.
Law enforcement found that the redeye_24 Snapchat account was linked to a Google Voice number that was registered with a podcast run by Herrington. The recovery phone number listed for the account was Herrington’s real phone number, Baker said. Lee had not blocked the redeye_24 account, and did not know it was Herrington’s when contacted, the conversation log shows.
Herrington said Lee told him that he had to go to work and left sometime before his trip to Walmart, Herrington said in his Friday, July 22 interview with police.
Afterward, Herrington told Baker and Fortner that he went to Walmart to buy food in his own car and that he bought packing tape. He then went for a run, where he turned around at Highland Square apartment and housing complex, he said.
While Herrington spoke with Baker and Fortner, other law enforcement officials were searching his apartment with a warrant signed earlier that morning. They sent his white Ford Escape to a crime lab, and cadaver dogs searched his apartment for traces of human remains.
Investigators found blonde hair—like that in Lee’s long braids—in the back seat area on the passenger side and in the driver’s seat area. The crime-lab technician found what investigators believe to be bodily fluids in the trunk of Herrington’s vehicle in the shape of a human foot. DNA analysis will take about three weeks from the time the sample was taken, Baker said of the crime lab.
Two cadaver dogs alerted four different times within his apartment. Three of the dogs’ alerts were in Herrington’s additional bedroom, and one was in the living room and kitchen area. The dogs also alerted in the driver’s seat and cargo area of the vehicle.
Officials collected two gray hoodies, a pair of shorts, shoes and other items from Herrington’s apartment. They found a Walmart receipt for duct tape in his trash can.
Tip Line help
When the University of Mississippi Police Department posted asking for people to call with information on Lee’s whereabouts, Khalid Fears did just that.
Fears had spoken with Lee over video chat at 6 a.m. on Friday, July 8, during which Lee told him that he had gotten in an argument with someone he hooked up with earlier that night. Lee was in his car during the videochat with Fears.
Lee told Fears that he blocked the man on all social-media accounts, but the man contacted Lee with a new account and offered “to do something to Jay Lee that he had never done before,” Baker said of Fears’ call. Fears didn’t get personal details on the man, Baker said.
Campus Walk security cameras show Lee was out of his apartment from 4 a.m. to 4:39 a.m. on Friday, July 8, and left again, for the last time, at 5:58 a.m. that morning.
Investigators also presented location data from Herrington’s phone in court in favor of bail denial. Herrington had gone to Maine from Tuesday, July 12, through Sunday, July 17, less than a week after Lee’s disappearance. He left the country to visit Colombia in April, and his data showed locations across the United States and Mexico.
‘Keep in Mind My Son’s Character’
Herrington’s mother, Tina Herrington, testified on her son’s behalf at the bond hearing. Defense Attorney Horan provided Herrington’s mother with a list of her son’s achievements to read to the court during her testimony.
In college, Herringtonn was a Luckyday scholar at the University of Mississippi, earned his bachelor’s degree just a few months ago, served as the Black Student Union treasurer, served in the Associated Student Body, owned a moving company and volunteered his time. In high school, he made it into his alma mater’s hall of fame, played football and basketball, sang in show choir and volunteered regularly.
“I would ask the judge to keep in mind my son’s character,” Tina Herrington said, pointing to the contradictions between the man she knew to be her son and the man the court says he is. “I know the (Lee) family is hurting and looking for answers as well.”
She emphasized that his grandfather, father and another family member are all pastors at the Abundant Life Ascendant Church in their hometown of Grenada. At least two of Herrington’s witnesses referred to him as “Timmy” throughout their testimonies.
Grenada High School Principal Emily Tindall testified on Herrington’s behalf, as did Grenada School District music teacher Jenni Winter. Winter’s son grew up with Herrington, and she was the director for a show choir in which Herrington participated. An elderly church member also testified on Herrington’s behalf, but the laymen in his family stayed in the audience.
‘They Don’t Know His Double Life’
“They don’t know this other Tim Herrington,” Assistant District Attorney Kilpatrick said in her Tuesday, Aug. 9, closing argument, responding to those testifying on behalf of Herrington. “They don’t know his double life. They don’t know redeye.”
Because he appears to have been motivated by the idea of preserving his reputation, Kilpatrick argued that Herrington is a danger to the public because he may target any witnesses or accomplices in order to prevent the eventual discovery of Lee’s body. His choice to lure his alleged victim to him and his tech savvy make him a special danger to the public, she said.
Horan argued that prosecutors had presented no evidence that a crime had been committed at his client’s Tuesday, Aug. 9, hearing.
The defense attorney argued that there has been no use of cadaver dogs in Mississippi courts without a body present. He said the dogs might also be trained in scent tracking, in which case Lee’s scent in Herrington’s belongings would also not indicate a crime. Finding bodily fluids in Herrington’s trunk is not evidence of a crime, as the fluids are unidentified, Horan said.
Horan argued that the case was sensationalized. His client deserves the same fair trial as anyone else would have without the media and protesters following the case, hr said.
The defense attorney emphasized that other people accused of murder in Lafayette County have been allowed out on bail, although Kilpatrick outlined the differences between this case and the one Horan origionally used as an example. Horan is a current member of the Mississippi House of Representatives for District 34.
At the end of the Tuesday, Aug. 9, hearing, Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge Gray Tollison issued a judgment denying Herrington bail.