Mississippi shooting suspect in court

Thomas Schlender

By:  Melina Matthes
mmatthes@klkntv.com

James Willie is accused of killing Thomas Schlender of Raymond, and another woman a few days later in Mississippi.

Because the crimes happened in different Mississippi counties Willie has only been charged with one of the murders so far.

After a week of terror, the nightmare appears to be over for drivers in Mississippi as the man who police believe is responsible for two deadly highway shootings has been arraigned in court.

Two innocent drivers killed in cold blood, left to die along remote stretches of Mississippi highway.  Investigators believe Willie tried to rob the victims.  Now, the man who triggered a statewide manhunt has been charged for one of the two deaths. 

“We have a lot of information and evidence that link him to the crime, and we are good without a confession,” said Warren Strain, MS Dept. of Public Safety.

One count of murder was read for the 28-year-old Willie, in a Mississippi court room.  The punishment, if sentenced…life in prison.  At this time authorities are only able to charge Willie for the death of 48-year-old Lori Carswell who was murdered as she drove home from work.  His bond is set at $1.25 million.

Last week, police say they found a 9mm gun in Willie's possession that ballistic testing confirmed was the same gun used in both highway shootings.  However, authorities can not charge Willie with the murder of 74-year-old Thomas Schlender until all the evidence has been collected and he's transported to Panola County.  That's the area of Mississippi where Schlender was shot.

“To know that the person responsible has been found guilty, is sentenced appropriately, and cannot come out and hurt anyone else, certainly does bring closure for us,” said Schlender's son-in-law, Matt Anderson.

Authorities say Willie will be arraigned for Thomas Schlender's murder in Pinola by a grand jury in June.  The Schlender family says they will be a part of the trial every step of the way.