Jesse Skinner was what one would call a good ol boy. He was extremely kind hearted and always willing to lend a helping hand when he saw someone in need. He loved camping outdoors with his little boy, Triston. He loved visiting the national forest and parks in North Mississippi and for many years he spent his whole Fourth of July weekend camping out on Deer Island. He absolutely loved to hunt and fish and did so at every opportunity. Jesse wasn't a bad person, but he possessed a major flaw. As an impressionable young teenager, he had been introduced to narcotics and had developed an addiction. As often happens in
these tragic situations; an addict will build a network of contacts with shady, desperate individuals who are drug users themselves.
Jesse lived on a two-acre plot he had inherited from his grandfather in 1990. He worked on a farm as an errand boy earning approximately $200 per week and drove a truck provided to him by his employer. He bred dogs as a hobby. Jesse lived in a 12x6 camper trailer he had purchased for about $250.00. Judging by the price, one could grasp the condition and age of such a home. His girlfriend, Sandra Major, had an old style motor home that was also located on Jesse's property. It was broken down and she used it as a storage place for her personal possessions. In light of his subsequent conviction, it should be noted that there were no large houses, yachts, or even operating cars on Jesse's property. He didn't even have a bank account.
In 2002, right before the fourth of July, Jesse returned home from work to discover someone had broken into the camper trailer, in which he lived, and stolen his hunting guns and a large jar of change. He was extremely upset. Mostly, because one of the guns was a gift he had received as a child. He suspected the culprit was a vagrant he had allowed to live on his property for several months. Jesse had recently evicted him following an argument.
Sandra was out of town that week visiting relatives in Indiana while he had plans to camp out with friends on Deer Island for the weekend. Feeling vulnerable and angry, Jesse made a series of mistakes that he would live to regret. He placed a padlock on the only entrance to his trailer. He then entered Sandra's motor home, which had not been broken into, and took her gun. It was a cheap, $50, single-shot 12-gauge shotgun. Using it, he rigged a booby trap in such a manner that if someone were to open the door of his trailer, the gun would fire. He pointed the gun away from the door. The intent was to scare an intruder; not to harm. Anyone who came to visit Jesse's property had to drive past his neighbor's house and through a padlocked gate. Before he left for his camping trip, he stopped by his neighbor's house, informed him of the robbery and warned him of the booby trap. Jesse departed for his trip confident that his property was secure; never dreaming that federal agents would pick that weekend to pay him a visit.
On July 2, 2002 acting on a tip that Jesse was operating a meth lab on his property, two off-duty city police officers who were working part time with the local DEA Task Force decided to drive out to Jesse's house. It has never been revealed who gave them the information. Was it was someone who had it in for Jesse? Was it was a drug dealer attempting to trade information for a deal? Whatever the reason, the two officers drove out to Jesse's property under the pretense of talking with Jesse. When they could not gain entry to the property because of the locked gate and Jesse's dog, they left.
On their way out of Jesse's neighborhood, they discovered a garbage can sitting on the side of the road. The can was located outside of a subdivided multi-residential area and was nearly two football fields away from Jesse's property line. The officers decided to investigate even though there was nothing on the can denoting ownership. The only thing the officers claim they found in the can was a plastic grocery bag containing several empty starter fluid containers and the dismantled casings from some lithium batteries. Both of these items are known pre-cursors to the production of methamphetamine. It was later proven in court that the garbage can didn't even belong to Jesse; it belonged to his neighbor. In addition, there were no receipts found to link Jesse to the purchase of the merchandise, no one was brought forth who could identify Jesse as the purchaser of the items, no fingerprints were found, and the garbage can was on the corner of a main road and a secondary road that lead into Jesse's neighborhood. The officers managed to obtain a search warrant through a local county justice court judge. The search warrant was for Jesse's neighbor's home (the owner of the garbage can), yet they used this one search warrant to illegally search three distinctly separate properties...one of which was Jesse's.
During the raid on Jesse's property, a couple of agents attempted to open Jesse's camper trailer door and that is when the booby trap fired. The agents pulling on the door were not hit, but two agents standing on the side of the property claimed to have received minor injuries. These were the same two officers who had claimed to find precursors in the garbage can and deceived a judge into granting them a search warrant. They were also the same two officers who used the search warrant granted for one home to illegally search other homes in area.
The search didn't reveal very much. Jesse's garbage can was located next to his trailer. The DEA task force discovered a two burner camping stove that still had the sale sticker on it. They claimed it was probably used to cook meth. They also found some pickle jars next to one of the dog pens. Instead of swabbing the jars and testing the content they, "Destroyed them immediately so they could not be used in production of any future meth labs." Their search did not uncover a meth lab, drugs, or money, but two officers claimed they had been injured. They took all of Jesse's possessions, his TV, VCR, hunting gear, videotapes, etc. They even removed pictures from his walls. They entered Sandra's mobile trailer and stripped it clean. They took Jesse's dogs, had them euthanasia, and then later mailed him a bill for over $3,000.
They went before the Federal Grand Jury and requested an indictment. Since they didn't have a meth lab or meth they requested charges be granted under "conspiracy to manufacture meth." In other words, they wouldn't need physical proof, all they would need is people to say Jesse had a meth lab. With Jesse's circle of acquaintances in the drug world, some of them even serving time in prison, it wouldn't be hard to pull off. They contacted acquaintances of Jesse's in the drug world who had charges pending against them. Those who testified received handsome deals. I refused to believe all of the bribery and coercion was legal, but after many hours of research on the War on Drugs have discovered these types of exchanges are perfectly legal when the case involves drugs.
Before the trial even started, one of the officers was reported as saying there was no way Jesse could win and he was going to get a life sentence. The trial lasted for about a week. In the end, Jesse was convicted. Everyone pulling for Jesse really and truly thought justice would prevail and the jury would be allowed to see both sides of the story. They did not. The defense's hands were completely tied from the initial start because motions filed to suppress the search warrant on grounds of 'no probable cause' had been denied. The day after the trial, Jesse's probation officer showed up at the jail and told him he was going to get a life sentence.
After the trial, Jesse's family hired a prominent Federal Sentencing Specialist from Nashville to review the case. Transcripts were ordered and a thorough review was conducted. The sentencing specialist charted the testimony of each witness. He discovered so many discrepancies and inconsistencies he was completely taken aback. He created a chart that outlined the dates, times, and testimonies of each witness. Every testimony conflicted. He said the government would never grant Jesse a retrial simply because their witnesses were such horrible liars. He consulted with a forensic drug chemist in Texas who is extremely well respected and known throughout the country to review the amount of meth Jesse was charged with producing. The amount was so exorbitant it was determined the only way Jesse could have produced such large quantities would be to have 18-wheelers delivering crates of meth pre- cursers to his door on a regular basis. This was not happening. The government prosecuted Jesse as a "kingpin" under kingpin law....all based on hearsay testimony.
On Jan 14, 2004 Jesse was sentenced. The judge gave a speech. He admitted that he believe the testimony of the witnesses in the case were less than credible. He held up large pile of letters he had received from members of the community pleading mercy on Jesse at sentencing. He stated he believed Jesse to have many redeeming qualities, but felt Jesse had ruined Sandra Major's life (The government sent Sandra to prison because she would not cooperate/lie for them -- Her crime? The gun Jesse used to rig the booby trap belonged to her -- Jesse's guns had been stolen in the last robbery and she was out-of-town during the incident and unaware the incident had occurred). The judge sentenced Jesse to 40 years for conspiracy and an additional 5 years for assault on the
Jesse was told he shouldn't bother with an appeal because drug cases within the fifth circuit are all rubber-stamped and rarely, if ever, granted. This has turned out to be a true statement. Every appeal has been rubber-stamped "DENIED." The reality of this case has opened our eyes to things we never knew existed in this country. A couple of hours after his sentencing, Jesse was approached with the proposition of turning on an individual and providing testimony in exchange for a reduction in his horrible sentence. Jesse stated he would spend the rest of his life in prison before he would participate in putting an innocent man in prison. We must say we are very proud of him for this. There were and are many people who were looking at less severe sentences for much worse crimes who were willing to say whatever they had to say against Jesse to get a reduction or keep their freedom.
If this seems too far-fetched to be true, I encourage you to research this issue for yourself. This country is full of people whose lives have been destroyed by the War on Drugs. Jesse was 32 years old at the time he was sentenced and this story was written. Unless the people of this country take a stand against this terrible war, parole is reinitiated in the federal system, or justice finds its way back into our courts, Jesse will either die in prison or be in his seventies upon release.
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