DA Lawrence: 'Today I declare war on street gangs'

Published: May. 8, 2015 at 2:36 PM CDT|Updated: May. 8, 2015 at 4:59 PM CDT
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GEORGE COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - We're learning more about one of the murder suspects in the Donovan Cowart murder case. This isn't the first time Welford Lee Levi McCarty has been charged in a murder case. Back in March 2013, McCarty was linked to a George County murder. But the DA says he had to dismiss that charge and let McCarty walk free after a witness changed his story.

Now, District Attorney Tony Lawrence says it's time for Mississippi to create laws that prevent witness intimidation.

"Today, I declare war on street gangs," Lawrence announced Friday morning at a news conference. He was flanked by law enforcement leaders from the city, the state and the federal government to announce the new initiative.

"We are standing together shoulder-to-shoulder to fight these people," Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell said.

"For too long, aggravated assaults, robberies, stealing from law abiding citizens, murder and other crimes have gone unpunished because of witness intimidation, manipulation and harassment. And I say today enough is enough," Lawrence said.

The district attorney cited this week's arrest of Greene County murder suspect Welford Lee Levi McCarty as an example of witness tampering at its worst. McCarty is sitting in jail right now, accused of killing Donovan Cowart two years ago and dumping his body in a Greene County pond. Back in 2013, two months after Cowart first disappeared, authorities arrested McCarty and charged him with capital murder for the death of Joshua Gautier. Months later, McCarty walked out of jail because the case against him fell apart.

"That occurred because of witnesses changing testimony," Lawrence said. "Witness recounting testimony because what I maintain, my opinion, was fear. Fear of intimidation. And that man walked free."

The DA said it's time for Mississippi to adopt witness protection legislation to help deal with intimidation issues. In the meantime, law enforcers vow to work in unison to shut down gang activity.

"We will come after you with every legal asset at our disposal," Sheriff Ezell promised.

"If you're a member of a street gang, you need to know this, we're bringing law and order back to our streets," Lawrence said.

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