Cory Godbolt learns his sentence

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, May 28th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Today, the last installment in a four-part serial about a small Mississippi town victimized following the biggest mass shooting in the history of the state.

The trial of killer Cory Godbolt lasted two weeks.

The defense team’s top priority—to spare Godbolt the death penalty.

WORLD correspondent Kim Henderson picks up the story.

LAWYER: If you’ll look on the screen there. Tell me what that’s a picture of?
SISTER: My mother, myself, Chris, Cory, and Kenyata… 

KIM HENDERSON, REPORTER: During the sentencing phase of the trial, the defense highlighted Godbolt’s troubled youth. Jurors heard from Godbolt’s siblings. About how their policeman father died in a shooting at their stepmother’s hands.

Jurors also listened to Godbolt’s aunt, someone who testified on his behalf but also sang at a victim’s funeral—showing just how much this crime entangled a family tree.    

Then the courtroom encountered a different kind of witness, one who had evangelism on her mind. It was Godbolt’s first grade teacher, sprightly Diane Davis Harris. And she didn’t hold back. 

She stood up, pointed directly at Godbolt and started talking.  

TEACHER: It does not matter, Cory, whether you live or whether you die. The most important thing you should know today is where you’re going to spend eternity.
LAWYER: Your honor, I object…

Then, of course, the prosecution objected and she had to sit down. But as she did, she was thanking God that she got that out. 


Once proceedings ended each day, officers took Godbolt away in a transport vehicle. But on the last night, February 27th, he headed somewhere different: death row at Parchman Penitentiary.  

NEWSCAST: Now to breaking news tonight, four death sentences handed down by a Pike County jury:

As the clerk announced the death penalty four times, people in the courtroom wept, wailed, and rejoiced.  

WOMAN: All I can say is I’m just glad that it’s over with.

A wall of media crowded around the family members. Reporter Therese Apel was behind one of the TV cameras.

APEL: Truth is, at the trial, when I asked them, when they were all standing up there at the end, and I said, “Guys, so where do you go from here?” And Shayla stepped forward and said, “We live.” I still want to cry, thinking about that because I thought, “I don’t have that.” I mean, my faith is very important to me…but I have learned so much from their family.

Many of those affected by the shootings looked for the trial to bring closure. Tiffany Blackwell says she’s glad it’s over, but there aren’t any winners.

BLACKWELL: We all have to deal with this when we think about what could we have done different, what could we have said? 

Apel has questions, too. Especially since evidence in court showed Godbolt made meticulous plans with particular targets in mind.  

APEL: (SIGH) A reporter’s job is to report what they can verify and some of the things that people are digging around about, and myself as well, are hard to verify… 

BROWN: You ought to see all the fruit trees we have. Sheila stayed and she stayed and she never did this before and the next day she came back to my house. 

Carl Brown is related to some of the victims. He lives in the neighborhood where the first four murders happened, and he remembers his sister’s call at 4 that morning. 

BROWN: She said, “Open the door. Go outside.” Police cars were probably lined to Highway 51 to where the incident happened. That’s probably a quarter of a mile away…

As a retired state trooper, Brown has seen violent crimes, but these shootings  shocked him. Last year he rallied community support for a $60,000 memorial. 

BROWN: On the left side, facing this is a time capsule in here…

Engraved at the top of the stone monument is a simple declaration: You will never be forgotten. Below that, there’s a list of those who died.

Brown says he hopes the memorial brings healing, especially among family members with ties to both Godbolt and his victims. 

BROWN: Right now there is a lot of bitterness, and I pray that soon passes.  

Shayla Edwards is praying, too. 

EDWARDS: My prayer is for his family, his children. We want to make sure that they are okay, too. I pray for him, too.

The American justice system attempts to set things right with penalties, and that’s fitting and proper. But Christian hearts long for the “something more” of Biblical justice: the “making victims whole again” dimension. 

Myrtis May gets that. She lost her daughter and son-in-law in Godbolt’s rampage three years ago, but trusting in God keeps her hopeful. She believes He is at work.

MAY: The community as a whole may not see it, but I see a bigger picture…

And Apel, still pumping out daily news reports, admits this story and its people changed her life.  

APEL: Through my career I built up this thing where I was bulletproof but this was the first thing that I couldn’t just put in a box…

Cory Godbolt is scheduled for execution July 15, but records at the Lincoln County Circuit Clerk’s office indicate an appeal is underway. 

That likely means another layer of grief for the community to process. One that hovers out there in the future, waiting. 

But one thing is for certain. This mass shooting taught a hard lesson. It showed that domestic abuse isn’t just a matter of private concern. Left unstopped, it can turn into a public nightmare.  

APEL: I don’t want them to ever be forgotten. Because, I mean, even I refer to it as the Cory Godbolt case, but it’s not. It’s William Durr. It’s Barbara Mitchell, Brenda May, Tocarra May, Austin Edwards, Jordan Blackwell, Sheila and Ferral Burage…

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kim Henderson.

BASHAM: In a surprise move, the jury foreman contacted Lincoln County community leaders last weekend with a special request. They wanted to travel three hours to meet with victims’ families on the evening of the anniversary of the murders.

Although our four-part serial is done, you’ll have an opportunity to hear what happened at that memorial.

EICHER: That’s right. We’re combining all four pieces into a stand alone episode available next weekend, Saturday, June 6th.

In that presentation, we’re including nearly 10 minutes of additional interviews plus a report from the memorial service where jurors released lanterns into the night sky in honor of the victims.

You won’t want to miss it, and please, share it with a friend.

(Donna Campbell/The Daily Leader via AP, Pool) Shayla Edwards, mother of Austin Edwards, speaks to the media, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in the Pike County Courthouse in Magnolia, Miss., following the sentencing of Willie Cory Godbolt, who murdered her son and nephew as well as six other people in 2017.

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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