Update: Hinds County Sheriff Tyree Jones said officials released Joshua Brown from jail, WLBT reported several hours after this story’s publication.
Friends and family of the man arrested for the murder of Jackson State University student Jaylen Burns say surveillance footage proves that the suspect is innocent. Police arrested Jones College student Joshua Brown on Oct. 19, 2023, charging him with the high-profile murder of Burns. Brown has been in the Raymond County Detention Center since his arrest.
Brown’s family says GPS-tracking data and surveillance footage show he was about 90 miles away in Hattiesburg, Miss. around the time of the Oct. 15 shooting. WLBT’s Brendan Hall first reported on the existence of the footage on Oct. 30 and has since repeatedly followed up on the story.
The Mississippi Free Press spoke to one of Brown’s friends and a family spokesman who are two of the people alleging Brown was nowhere near the scene of the shooting.
Casting Doubt Over The Investigation
Pastor Stan Buckley, who does ministry in the Mississippi Delta and Haiti, is a spokesman for Brown’s family. He accused JSU police of conducting a “botched investigation” in a Nov. 1, 2023, interview with the Mississippi Free Press. He obtained video-surveillance evidence, witness statements and data from Brown’s Life 360 GPS tracking app that he said exonerates Brown.
“This young man is innocent,” Buckley said. “It is morally wrong to imprison someone who you know is innocent.”
Buckley said he presented several pieces of evidence to JSU police on Oct. 24 that show Brown was not on JSU’s campus, or in Jackson at all, on the night Burns was killed.
“Jackson State was under enormous pressure to make an arrest. So they did the easiest thing, and they arrested the wrong guy,” Buckley alleged.
The Mississippi Free Press reached out to Jackson State University on Nov. 1 for a statement about these allegations.
“The Jackson State University Department of Public Safety investigation into the death of Mr. Jaylen Burns is ongoing. We appreciate the members of the public who have shared information pertinent to this investigation. All information and/or evidence related to this investigation is being examined,” JSU Police Chief Herman Horton answered in a statement on Nov. 1, 2023.
Alleged Timeline of Brown’s Movements on Oct. 15, 2023
Cedric Watts, a childhood friend of Brown’s, said he was with the accused killer on the night of the shooting. Watts told the Mississippi Free Press on Nov. 1 that he got a text from Brown on Oct. 15, 2023, asking if he would be in the Hattiesburg area that day. Later that evening around 7:30 p.m., Watts said Jones texted him saying that he was headed to visit Watts after leaving his hometown of Columbia, Miss.
Watts told the Mississippi Free Press on Nov. 1 that he and Brown were at a Krispy Kreme drive-thru in Hattiesburg around 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 15, 2023, picking up donuts. Jackson Police Chief Joseph Wade told the Mississippi Free Press on Nov. 1 that JPD received a rapid-response notification alert on Oct. 15, 2023, at 9:30 p.m. about a shooting on the campus of Jackson State University.
Stan Buckley provided screenshots that show the driver of a white truck, allegedly Brown, seen in the drive-thru of a Krispy Kreme restaurant on surveillance footage timestamped 10/15/23 9:53 p.m.
In another frame from inside the bakery, the driver of a white vehicle Buckley identified as Brown is seen paying for an order while wearing a white wristband on his arm.
Buckley acknowledged that none of the footage at the Krispy Kreme drive-thru provides any clear image of Brown’s face to confirm that he is the person behind the wheel of the white truck.
Brown’s friend, Cedric Watts, said the pair ordered a dozen donuts on the night of Oct. 15 before Brown dropped him off at his girlfriend’s home, which is near the restaurant.
“After dropping me off at my girlfriend’s house, he told me he was headed back to school,” Watts said. Jones College is about 30 minutes away from the only Krispy Kreme location in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Life 360 GPS-tracking data Buckley provided show movement toward Laurel, Miss., from 9:38 p.m. to 10:32 p.m. Buckley said the data show Brown getting donuts at Krispy Kreme with Cedric Watts, Brown dropping off Watts at Watts’ girlfriend’s home in Hattiesburg and then Brown traveling back to the Jones College campus in Ellisville.
At the time of his interview with the Mississippi Free Press on Nov. 1, Watts said that officials from Jackson State University had yet to contact him to talk about the case.
A screenshot of different surveillance video footage, timestamped 10/15/2023 at 10:30 p.m., then shows the driver of a white truck pulling into a parking lot at Jones College, Buckley said. He said Brown is the person driving the vehicle captured in the screenshot.
The footage does not provide a clear image of Brown’s face in the driver’s seat.
Another still frame captured from surveillance footage, timestamped 10/15/23 11:00 p.m., shows three men walking in a parking lot on the campus of Jones College, Buckley told the Mississippi Free Press. This is 90 minutes after Jackson police received a notification of a shooting on the Jackson State University campus that evening. The person pictured on the far right in front of the white truck is Brown, Buckley said.
This surveillance footage does not provide a clear image of Brown’s face.
“Josh is on the far right in the striped pants,” Stan Buckley told the Mississippi Free Press on Nov. 1. Brown spent the rest of his night on campus unloading groceries from the truck, with some help from friends, eating donuts and playing video games, Buckley said.
The last Life 360 GPS-signal tracked of Joshua Brown that evening is near Stadium Circle and Lakeview Drive on the campus of Jones College, data Stan Buckley provided show. The data indicates movement between 10:32 p.m. and 7:36 a.m. Buckley said that reflects Brown arriving on campus and spending the rest of his evening there.
‘You Can’t Be in Two Places at the Same Time’
Stan Buckley and Cedric Watts are not the only ones casting doubt over Brown’s arrest. Stan Buckley’s brother, Jones College’s head football coach, Steve Buckley, said that because of Brown’s reputation as a student-athlete, he and professors at the college were shocked at the announcement of Brown’s arrest. Brown was a defensive back on the Jones College football team.
“I knew when I met Josh that he was the type of kid we wanted in our football program,” Steve Buckley said. “As a football player and a student-athlete, he’s been punctual; he’s been accountable. He’s had zero issues off the field during his time at Jones.”
Coach Steve Buckley said his goal is not to deny justice to Burns’ family, but to prevent injustice.
“We all understand that there was a terrible crime committed,” he said. “In no way are we trying to dismiss that. We know that there’s a lot of people all the way to Chicago that are grieving. We want everybody to understand that. I have kids of my own. These parents lost their son in a major crime; there’s no way we’re dismissing that.”
“None of the things I’ve said about Joshua’s character mean he didn’t shoot Jaylen,” Buckley continued. “But the evidence shows it. You can’t be in two places at the same time.”
‘Tell Me How I’m Supposed to Live Without My Son?’
Jaylen Burns, a Chicago native, was killed during the weekend of Jackson State’s homecoming. His family was in town celebrating with him and were traveling back to Chicago when they got word of his death.
“Before I could even get back (to Chicago), they told me my child was gone,” Burns’ mother La’Trice Wright told Chicago’s WGN-TV on Oct. 16. “I need somebody to tell me what I’m supposed to do next. I need somebody to tell me how I’m supposed to live without my son.”
Burns’ death re-ignited conversations about gun violence and safety on college campuses with advocates calling on Mississippi lawmakers to enact stricter gun laws. “We’re being forced to normalize learning in constant fear of gunfire ringing out in—and outside of—our classrooms, but the truth is, this isn’t normal,” Valencia Green of Students Demand Action said in an Oct. 17 press release. “When shootings happen we need more than ‘thoughts and prayers.’ We need action to keep us safe.”
Joshua Brown has been held at Raymond Detention Center since his arrest on Oct. 19 for the charges of murder and possession of a weapon on school property. Members of his family told WLBT on Nov. 2 that Jackson State University police failed their family and the family of Jaylen Burns. Kenyatta Patrice and Shanay Martin, both relatives of Brown, told the station they also think Jamison Kelly Jr., the second person arrested in relation to Burns’ death, is innocent.
“You got two kids sitting in jail, falsely accused, and (Jaylen Burns’ family is) going to have to re-live everything all over again,” Patrice told WLBT on Nov. 2. Martin said their faith in God gives them confidence that both Brown and Kelly will be released.
Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens released a statement on Nov. 6 saying that his office is working with the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, Capitol Police, and Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to support Jackson State police and assist in the investigation into the death of Jaylen Burns.
“In the coming days we will be bringing more resources to the investigation to assist the Jackson State police department in bringing those responsible to justice,” Owens said.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include links to reporting from WLBT’s Brendan Hall, who first reported about the surveillance footage’s existence on Oct. 30.