By Mina Corpuz
A Union County judge has dismissed an attempted murder charge against a 24-year-old former Ole Miss student accused of stabbing a Tennessee man in the neck because the victim did not come to court.
Four days into the trial of New Albany resident Lane Mitchell, Judge Kent Smith dismissed the charge and entered a verbal order of acquittal, the Daily Journal reported.
As of Thursday afternoon, Smith had not issued a written order about his decision.
In 2019, then 18-year-old Mitchell was accused of stabbing Collierville resident Russell Rogers, who was unarmed, at the Tallahatchie Gourmet restaurant. In court documents and during trial, Mitchell said he stabbed Rogers because he believed Rogers had a gun and feared for the safety of his father, who was the bartender, and a female waitress.
After being indicted in 2019, Mitchell, who has high-profile political connections through U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly, was admitted to Ole Miss and attended until 2020 before withdrawing over accusations he assaulted two women on campus, Mississippi Today reported from court records filed in the case. Those Ole Miss records also were uploaded onto the court’s online case system, although they were meant to be sealed.
Mitchell went on to attend Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tennessee, which held its graduation last week. Wicker and Kelly wrote letters of support for his application to West Point Military Academy.
The prosecution had subpoenaed records of the alleged assaults to use in trial, and the defense had asked the judge to exclude that information from trial, according to court records.
Judge Smith’s decision stems from a Tuesday motion by Mitchell’s defense team, which argued that Rogers’ failure to come to court violated Mitchell’s constitutional rights and prevented him from presenting a full defense, according to court documents.
“As part of Lane Douglas Mitchell’s defense, he has a fundamental right to question and cross examine Nathan Russell Rogers in the presence of the jury about his behavior at Tallahatchie Gourmet restaurant on February 9, 2019 which goes directly to the question of the reasonableness of Lane Douglas Mitchell’s actions and who was the initial aggressor,” according to a Tuesday court filing.
The defense also accused the prosecution and the victim’s conservator – his father, Robert Rogers – of not telling them Rogers was out of the country and likely not to come to the trial, which factored into an effort “to deprive Lane Douglas Mitchell of his constitutional, fundamental right ot a fair trial,” according to the Tuesday filing.
In response, the state said the rules of criminal procedure or state statutes don’t provide an avenue for a defendant to file a motion to dismiss in the middle of a trial, according to court documents. Prosecutors also denied the defense’s accusations.
The judge’s decision comes a day after Rogers’ conservator filed a writ of prohibition with the Mississippi Supreme Court asking that the court stay Mitchell’s trial.
In that request to the state Supreme Court, Robert Rogers cited a Tuesday court order from a Shelby County Probate Court judge quashing the defense’s certificate to take Russell Rogers into custody and bring him to the court to testify.
The judge also found Russell Rogers unfit to testify due to his mental health, according to court documents. Russell Rogers has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder arising from the attack.
On Wednesday, a three-person panel of the state Supreme Court declined to hear the conservator’s motion because he was not a party in the case, according to the order signed by Justice Leslie King.
Under double jeopardy, Mitchell cannot be prosecuted again, Judge Smith said Thursday.
This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.