The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

September 11, 2013

Not guilty plea in Mississippi school kidnapping plot

JACKSON, Miss. — A woman has pleaded not guilty to federal charges accusing her of leading a scheme to kidnap a 6-year-old girl from an east Mississippi elementary school.

Jesse Mae Brown Pollard is one of seven people charged in the scheme to kidnap the girl that authorities say was designed to pressure the child's mother in a land dispute. Authorities said Pollard is the cousin of the child's mother. Pollard's son, a former basketball player at the University of Alabama, is also among those charged in the case.

Pollard's lawyer, Abby Brumley, said Wednesday that she's preparing for a November trial and had no further comment on the plea entered Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Jackson.

The child was taken from East Kemper Elementary School on April 30 and turned up unharmed on a rural road in Enterprise the next day.

This is how the indictment and authorities describe the abduction and the various defendants' roles in the conspiracy.

The plot began with Pollard hoping to use the child as leverage in the land dispute. She enlisted the help of Wanda Dancy, a secretary at the school, who told Pollard where to find the child — in the school library — and what clothes she was wearing, according to the indictment dated June 25.

Another woman, Shamarius Ruffin, went into the school to pick up the child at Jesse Pollard's request, telling the librarian that she had stopped in the school office and talked to "Ms. Wanda (Darcy)" about picking up the child, the indictment said.

Prosecutors said Pollard and Ruffin drove the child to a hotel in Bessemer, Ala., then went to a nearby store where Pollard bought a cellphone. Pollard used the phone to text the child's mother message that said: "don't call the police I will call you later if you call the police u won't see her again," the indictment said.

At some point, Devonta Pollard, Jesse Pollard's son and a former basketball player at the University of Alabama, drove to Boligee, Ala., to pick up another woman, Shaquayla Johnigan, the indictment said.

Johnigan took the child and a rental car from Jesse Pollard and drove to a hotel in Laurel, Miss., where she sent a text message from the same phone to tell the child's mother: "since you called police, I want $50,000 by 3 p.m., I will tell you location later," according to the indictment.

The next day, after an alert had been issued about the missing girl, Johnigan called another woman, Joyce Johnigan, and asked to meet in Vossburg, Miss. After meeting, the two then dropped off the girl, unharmed, near a stranger's mobile home in Enterprise, Miss., the indictment said.

A man charged in the case, James Shurmon Johnigan, is accused of conspiracy and burning a gym bag containing the phone that was used to send the text messages.

Lawyers for Joyce Johnigan, Devonta Pollard and Shaquayla Johnigan had no comment when contacted Wednesday. The other defendants' lawyers did not immediately respond to phone messages.

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