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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

From prison to a pauper's grave

3-28-2012 Mississippi:

VICKSBURG, Miss. (WTW) — When Vicksburg native Stuart Brooks was killed Feb. 21 in his prison cell at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, a family member's old fear was proved prophetic.

"Stuart is very much in need of psychological help," Brooks' aunt wrote in 1995, before he was sentenced for the sexual battery of her 9-year-old son. "I know that with his mentality, he would not survive in a prison, someone would probably kill him. I don't think he'll ever be able to function in a normal society."

Brooks was 18 when he was convicted in Warren County Circuit Court of assaulting his young cousin. Writing to then-Judge Frank Vollor as part of Vollor's pre-sentencing investigation, Brooks' aunt was torn — angry about what happened to her son but concerned for her nephew.

"He's going to need help for the rest of his life and should be locked up that long," she wrote.

Instead, Brooks was released after serving 15 years of a 30-year sentence, was re-arrested and sent back to prison for failing to register as a sex offender.

About halfway through that three-year sentence, he was strangled, an autopsy showed, at the Lost Gap facility. His cellmate has been charged in his death.

With Brooks' death, all those close to the 1995 case are gone.

Brooks' aunt, who wrote to Vollor, died in 1996; his mother died in 2006. The victim died in 2007. Brooks, who was 35, was given a pauper's burial March 6 in Vicksburg's Cedar Hill Cemetery, the $500 expense approved by the Warren County Board of Supervisors the day before and the plot provided by the city.

The burial was attended by Brooks' sister, Leslie Crosby, now of Madison, his aunt Cynthia Brooks of Houston, his friend Annie Sims of Vicksburg and 10 or 15 others, Sims said.

Crosby, 37, said she last saw her brother in 1993, before she moved away from Vicksburg.

Family members had not visited Stuart Brooks during his incarceration, as finances, transportation problems and other issues got in the way, Cynthia Brooks said.

"In spite of the situation, all the different things that get in the way, they are still your family, regardless," she said.

Sims, 42, said Brooks was a lifelong friend. The two stayed in touch during his years in prison, and it was Sims whom the prison's chaplain, John Newbaker, called Feb. 21 to say Brooks' body had been found.

Sims, Crosby and Cynthia Brooks said getting information from prison officials has been difficult and they've been "given the runaround."

Sims was given conflicting information about where Brooks' body was taken, and Crosby was told she was "not on the list" to be told what happened.

"No one wanted to talk to me," said Crosby. "They said they couldn't give me any information and kept saying I needed to speak with the warden."

She didn't reach him until two days after Brooks' death, and by that time what she knew of the crime she learned in news accounts, the earliest of which reported that he committed suicide. Not believing that, Crosby visited the prison and contacted the Winston County chapter of the NAACP for help.

"I believe if I wasn't bugging them, it would still be (classified as) a suicide," said Crosby.

Sims said Brooks wrote to her "a lot."

"Stuart was a character," she said. "He'd get along with anybody. You just had to get to know him. Yes, Stuart would react, but somebody would have had to be picking on him."

After his arrest on the sexual battery charge, Brooks was separated from other inmates in the Warren County Jail "due to his mental and physical problems," court documents show. He went through other inmates' things, struck at jailers and smeared things with urine and feces.

A psychologist at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield declared Brooks competent to stand trial.

Pre-sentencing documents in Brooks' court file include the letter from his aunt as well as a 1995 psychological profile.

From an early age, Brooks had mental and emotional problems, as well as a profound speech impediment, documents show. He was first referred for treatment as a 5-year-old who was difficult to handle in the classroom; medication was prescribed. He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and was said to be impulsive and aggressive; tests showed he was mildly retarded.

"Stuart was a profoundly troubled young man," said Mike Bonner, who was his court-appointed defense attorney in 1995. He declined to say more, citing ethical considerations.

Then-Assistant District Attorney John Bullard, who prosecuted the case, declined to comment.

In news reports following the jury's guilty verdict in 1995, Bullard was quoted as saying, "There's nothing you can do for a guy like this but lock him up." The pre-sentencing investigation, Bullard reportedly said, revealed "a complete and documented history of aggressiveness and abuse toward other children."

Vollor sentenced Brooks to the maximum term, 30 years, but Mississippi Department of Corrections released him May 27, 2010. Brooks was considered to have "flat-timed," or completed his sentence under the law, said MDOC spokesman Tara Booth.

"Under the old law (previous to the Truth-in-Sentencing bill which requires sex offenders to serve their entire sentence), he was able to earn time off his sentence," Booth said, through work, completing prison programs and other methods.

MDOC policy calls for sex offenders to be given release counseling by case managers that includes information on registering as a sex offender, she said. Case managers also typically provide information on where inmates who have no place to go can find a shelter, Booth said.

Sims and Crosby said Brooks was given a bus ticket to Vicksburg and $25, and he went to a local men's shelter. The women said they did not think he understood the requirement to register, and Sims said when she tried to help him register 10 days after his release, he was re-arrested on the spot.

In July 2010, the grand jury indicted him for failing to register as a sex offender, and Brooks pleaded guilty and was returned to the EMCF Sept. 14 to serve three years.

The facility is a private prison contracted by the MDOC.

Crosby said she purchased a transcript of the 1995 trial and the family is working on obtaining legal representation but has nothing formal yet.

"I want to see, if they knew he wasn't supposed to be there, if he was supposed to be in a mental facility, whoever is accountable for sending him there," Crosby said. "Even if it is East Mississippi Correctional Facility and not Parchman, there are still hardened criminals in there." ..Source.. by Pamela Hitchins, Vicksburg Post

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