Cory Godbolt goes to trial


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, May 27th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Today, the third in a four-part serial about a small Mississippi town coming to grips with unimaginable loss.

Today marks the third anniversary of a killing spree that took eight lives over Memorial Day weekend 2017. The killer was related to nearly all of the victims. WORLD correspondent Kim Henderson continues with their story—this time: the trial.

AUDIO: [SOUND OF RAIN FALLING]

KIM HENDERSON, CORRESPONDENT: The morning jury selection began in the capital murder trial of Cory Godbolt, the sky thundered. Rain fell in sheets. It was like two-and-a-half years of tears bottled up, coming down all at once. 

The families of Godbolt’s eight victims had waited a long time for justice.   

NEWSCASTER: Willie Corey Godbolt’s alleged rampage ended here…  

Attorneys took five days to settle on jurors. Because of pretrial publicity, all this was done in North Mississippi. The trial took place in a county in the south part of the state, and since jurors were sequestered, every moment counted. Opening arguments started on a Saturday. Court convened on a Sunday. Locals couldn’t recall any other time that had happened.   

Daisy Moore attended the trial. She knew Cory Godbolt because he hung out at her grandmother’s house. But that was before he murdered her nephew. 

MOORE: It’s been an emotional roller coaster. This is a family member, this is someone we grew up with. But then on the other side of it, it’s like, who really is this person? Like, how could you do those things? 

Reporter Therese Apel said the families of victims and witnesses like herself couldn’t wait to get the trial behind them.  

APEL: I think there was this big anticipation of getting this trial over with, but you didn’t realize what the trial was going to mean as far as what you’re going to learn, what you’re going to see, who you’re going to see, you know, that kind of thing…

Apel was the first to take the stand. Her video of Godbolt’s confession had become primary evidence. The Clarion-Ledger even sent a lawyer down to protect her source from being named—the one that called her during the night. 

Jurors studied the footage of Godbolt and Apel as it played on a screen at the front of the courtroom. Audio here is courtesy of Apel and The Clarion-Ledger.  

GODBOLT: My intentions was to have y’all to kill me. But I ran out of bullets. (APEL: It’s a good thing they showed mercy.) Suicide by cop was my intention. I ain’t fit to live, not after what I done. Not in y’all’s eyes or anybody else’s eyes. But God, you know, He forgives you for everything…  

Godbolt watched the video, too, surrounded by a trio of defense attorneys. Instead of prison orange, he got to wear a coat and tie to court each day, as well as a distinguished pair of wide-framed glasses. Shayla Edwards found it difficult to be near him. 

EDWARDS: When you see sitting in front of you, the man that killed your children, it’s kind of hard… 

Judge David Strong warned that it would be an emotional trial, and he was right. Those in the courtroom couldn’t help but react to the frantic 911 calls and gruesome details they heard. Other moments were understated but equally unforgettable, like Sheena Godbolt’s reaction to what the defense called a “happy family photo” of her and her husband with their children. 

“Just because it’s on Facebook doesn’t make it real,” came Sheena’s curt reply.

She said she suffered for years at her husband’s hands, leaving when he abused her but coming back because he swore he’d change. Once he even choked her and beat her so badly she required treatment at the hospital. 

There was testimony of abuse from the Godbolts’ 12-year-old daughter as well. She took the stand just days after an unnerving incident at the trial. During a lunch break, Godbolt somehow managed to beat on the window of a car where his child was seated.   

AUDIO: [SOUND OF TALKING]

Myrtis May has health problems, but she made it to the trial anyway. She’s Sheena’s aunt, and she had experienced trouble of her own with Cory. A year before the shootings, the Lincoln County Justice Court convicted him of “simple assault to create fear” against Myrtis May. 

But May wasn’t at the trial because of all that. Or maybe in a way she was. Myrtis May’s daughter, Sheila Burage, was one of the shooting victims. 

Six months after the tragedy, she did a deep dive into Scripture. God became her comfort.

MAY: And knowing who He is and how He died for sinners like us. You can’t help but love a God like that. I learned to depend on Him more and more each day. He said: “Lean not to your own understanding, but all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path…”

Still, she misses taking rides with her daughter and the meals she cooked. May  also mourns the loss of her son-in-law, another one of the eight victims.

MAY: I miss both of them real, real bad.

May has grieved before, but she says this time has been different. 

MAY: I can’t even explain it to you. It’s a hurt that, that only God can bring you back from.
(KH: You feel like He’s doing that?)
I feel like he’s already done that for me.

May, like many others, hoped the trial would bring closure. But after all this time, some in the community were beginning to wonder: Would a conviction be enough to end the bitterness?


NICK EICHER: Kim Henderson returns tomorrow with the last installment in our serial: “A Community Grief.” If you missed any of the previous segments, you can find them all at worldandeverything.org. 

Next time: a guilty verdict and healing begins.


(Donna Campbell/The Daily Leader via AP, Pool) Defendant Willie Cory Godbolt stands with attorney Alison Steiner, left, and attorney Alison Steiner, right during opening arguments in his trial in Magnolia, Miss. Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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