HARRISON COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - A homeless Gulfport man has been sentenced to spend the next 18 years in prison after kidnapping and assaulting a stranger who was trying to help him. Ernest Eugene Leffew, 47, pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges of armed robbery and kidnapping.
On Sept. 24, 2017, the victim was leaving church after a Sunday service when he reported came across Leffew in the parking lot. The victim offered to take the homeless man to the laundromat to help wash his clothes, telling his wife he would be home right after so he could attend an afternoon church meeting.
Hours passed and the victim did not return home. His wife then called Long Beach Police to report her husband missing. Police began a missing persons investigation, issuing a "be on the lookout" for the victim and his vehicle.
At 11:30 p.m. that night, Harrison County Sheriff's Department got a call about an armed robbery and kidnapping at the Legacy Inn on Canal Road. When deputies arrived, they found the missing victim, who said he had just escaped from the confines of the Leffew.
Through their investigation, authorities said they learned that after the victim and Leffew left the church together, the homeless man took the victim to an empty lot on Beatline Road and tied him to a tree with a rope while he determined what to do next. Leffew took the victim's car keys and cell phone throughout the entire ordeal, said authorities.
Eventually, Leffew cut the victim free and forced him to drive to multiple ATMs throughout Long Beach and Gulfport, withdrawing money from the victim's account. Leffew also took the victim to Walmart on Highway 49 to purchase multiple cell phones and electronics using his debit card. After leaving Walmart, Leffew took the victim to a home in Long Beach to buy drugs and pick up a woman. The three then went to the hotel, where they used the victim's drivers license to rent a room.
Once they were in the room, Leffew reportedly tied the victim up with electrical tape and a phone cord. The victim was able to chew through the tape and untie the phone cord, escaping from the room.
When deputies arrived, they found all of the items purchased at the Walmart earlier in the day. The victim's truck was also found in a hotel parking lot on Highway 49. Leffew was located the next day and arrested. He still had the victim's debit card on him when police took him in to custody.
“This defendant took advantage of a good Samaritan who was trying to help someone in need," said Assistant District Attorney Mitch Owen, who prosecuted the case. "The victim suffers from a series of work-related injuries he suffered in years past and it was obvious that Leffew was taking advantage of those disabilities. The victim was prepared to testify that if he were to attempt to get away, he was terrified that the defendant would go to his house and harm his wife."
He was charged with kidnapping and aggravated assault. Circuit Court Judge Roger T. Clark sentenced Leffew on Tuesday to 30 years in the custody of Mississippi Department of Corrections but 12 of those years were suspended, leaving 18 to be served.