Prosecutor: High-ranking gang member pleads guilty to capital murder in death of Gautier man

Three other men are also charged with capital murder in the 2020 death of Dustin Suttles.
Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 2:07 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2021 at 2:11 PM CDT
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PASCAGOULA, Miss. (WLOX) - One of four men charged with capital murder in the 2020 homicide of a Jackson County man pleaded guilty this week to his part in the crime.

Joseph Paul McLeod of Pascagoula will spend the rest of his life in prison for the death of 29-year-old Dustin Suttles of Gautier. McLeod, 34, appeared Tuesday before Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Dale Harkey, where he accepted a plea deal in exchange for a life sentence.

Suttles’ body was found on Sept. 22, 2020, floating in the Pascagoula River. Prosecutors say McLeod, along with three other men, lured the victim to Jackson County, assaulted him and ultimately killed him, dumping his body off Roy Cumbest bridge of Wade/Vancleave Road.

Zachary Cooper, 27; Jason Lee Miller, 36; and, Taylor Allan Carpenter, 23, were also arrested and initially charged with accessory after the fact to capital murder. Shortly after, the accessory charges were upgraded to capital murder for all three suspects.

(left) Zachary Cooper, (right) Jason Lee Miller
(left) Zachary Cooper, (right) Jason Lee Miller(Jackson County Sheriff's Department)

During the investigation, it was determined that McLeod was a high-ranking member of the Simon City Royals. He had also previously been charged with several crimes in Jackson County in the years before Suttles was murdered, including carjacking, various drug charges, and felon in possession of a weapon. He was out on bond on some of those charges at the time of the murder.

( left)Taylor Carpenter, (right) Joseph McLeod
( left)Taylor Carpenter, (right) Joseph McLeod (Jackson County Sheriff's Department)

“While this guilty plea and life without parole sentence cannot bring their son back and fill the void his loss has caused, I hope that the victim’s family feels some semblance of justice served today. This is the first step in getting justice for this family,” said District Attorney Angel Myers McIlrath in a statement. “I commend the work of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, who worked quickly to investigate this case and apprehend the individuals involved.”

Now, the work continues to gather evidence and prosecute the other three suspects, said Assistant District Attorney Bill Barrett, who prosecuted the case with ADA Justin Lovorn.

“We will continue to work to bring all persons involved in the death of Dustin Suttles to justice, including members of the Simon City Royals street gang. My thanks goes out to Jackson County Sheriff’s Department and the South Mississippi Metro Enforcement Team for their tireless efforts in investigating this case and arresting those responsible,” said Barrett in a statement.

Cooper, Miller and Carpenter have been held in the Jackson County Adult Detention Center without bond since they were arrested as they await for their cases to be presented to the grand jury.

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